Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fritz Ostermueller's Daughter Talks About "42"


Over the past couple weeks, I've had the pleasure of speaking with Fritz Ostermueller's adopted daughter Sherrill Ostermueller Duesterhaus. She was born in Canonsburg, PA - just outside Pittsburgh - and was adopted just after her birth. She now lives in Joplin, Missouri.

Sherrill learned about the less than flattering (and frankly, inaccurate) portrayal of her father in "42" on the Monday after the film's opening. No one from the studio ever contacted her to inform her that her father would be one of the movie's primary villains opposing Jackie Robinson.

"It's broken my heart," she told me over the phone.

Since our first conversation, Sherrill has seen "42" for herself. She recently put her reaction into words, and posted it as a comment under my previous post on Fritz Ostermueller on this blog. She also shared some press clippings from her personal scrapbook of her father's career. It includes the best evidence I've seen that Ostermueller did not hit Jackie Robinson with a pitch out of malice.

I've become very invested and passionate about Fritz Ostermueller, and how he's portrayed in "42". However, I could never speak or write with the same honest and heartfelt emotion as his daughter does. The man she knew was not a racist. He was a good man. A great father. Now, she's taken up what she calls her duty to defend his good name.






Matt, I have seen the movie "42" and have nothing but the upmost respect for Jackie Robinson. He faced and overcame racial bigotry that I'm not sure many of us could have endured. If it weren't for him I may not have had my other favorite number 21, Roberto Clemente for my baseball hero growing up. But Jackie's story should have been told by actual experiences and not harmful fabricated portions of Fritz Ostermueller's relationship with Jackie Robinson.

Just a level 1 Google search will tell you Fritz did NOT "bean" Jackie Robinson. I have a newspaper clipping written by Les Biederman of the Pittsburgh Press-Gazette, who was actually there. Scrapbooks are a wonderful thing.


He writes, "Jackie Robinson collected a single to center and beat out a bunt to run his batting streak through 14 games in a row. Osty threw a high inside pitch that caught Robinson on the left wrist in the first inning."

Remember it was chronicled by Wendell Smith that Fritz was apologetic, which of course was left out of the movie. Also the actor that portrayed Fritz was right handed. They called Fritz, "Lefty", for a reason. There was no melee on the mound that day. The "revenge" homerun banter was another rewrite of history by screenwriters as Jackie got his first homer off Fritz at Ebbets Field on June 5, 1947...so there was no need for such words in Sept.

Not much research done here. No one contacted me or any family member for information and we are not hard to find.

Now to further substantiate that this was no more than a veteran pitcher facing a rookie hitter I offer the following.
In an article titled, "Old Folks Talks on Pitching" the writer starts by saying, "Ever since he joined the Pirates in 1944, Fritz Ostermueller has been one of my favorite baseball people. Not because Fritz can pitch well at an age when most ball players are looking up their pension fund benefits, but because he is gentlemanly, soft-spoken, intelligent and an interesting conversationalist."

Then it quotes Fritz, "Just sitting on the bench watching what the other fellows are doing, whether in practice or during a game, will teach you things. Observation, like experience, is a great teacher. By observing other ball players you learn both their strong and weak points. For instance, when the Dodgers were in town I had a chance to study Jackie Robinson before going in to pitch one game. I noticed he crowded the plate and lunged at every pitch. He didn't give the pitcher 'much room'. I didn't like that at all because I want my half of the 'heart' of the plate, and no batter, no matter who he is will crowd me out of my share. I told my wife the night before I pitched I might have trouble with Robinson-that one of my pitches would hit him, if he didn't move back. I knew, too, some people would say it was intentional. It wasn't at all, but in his first trip to the plate I hit him. After that he moved back a couple of inches and showed me some respect. The idea is to keep the batter off balance, besides keeping him guessing as to what you're going to throw next...."

Pure baseball..nothing more. Fritz was a good pitcher, a good man and a great Dad. It is hard to defend yourself when you are no longer here and those who knew you best are no longer here but as you said, I AM HERE. And this is for you Dad, with love.

Fritz' daughter,
Sherrill

 

I was sad to inform Sherrill that I had spoken with a Pittsburgh-based lawyer, who is experienced in matters involving the motion picture industry. He put it rather bluntly. Once you're dead, you're fair game. There's little legal recourse for Sherrill and the rest of Fritz Ostermueller's family. All they can do is try to get out their side of the story. I'm more than happy to play a small role in making that happen.