Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Truth Is Out There

"42" has been seen by millions since it opened in theaters, so it's unlikely reality will ever eclipse what Hollywood planted in the public consciousness. Still, the truth about what actually happened between Jackie Robinson and former Pirates pitcher Fritz Ostermueller is spreading.

It's now well-established that former Pirates pitcher Fritz Ostermueller never struck Jackie Robinson with a pitch out of malice. His adopted daughter, Sherrill Ostermueller Duesterhaus, has provided evidence that it was a simple case of a pitcher protecting his part of the plate, and she's getting a lot of opportunities to share it.

One of the first to publish a story on her was the Herald-Whig, in Fritz Ostermueller's hometown of Quincy, Illinois. A couple days later, the New York Daily News picked up the story, and its baseball columnist Bill Madden dissected some of the finer inaccuracies in "42", specifically the climactic, final confrontation between Robinson and Fritz Ostermueller. (SPOILER ALERT)
"...when it came to the final scene, where Jackie, wearing his home Dodger whites, gets his revenge against Pirates lefty Fritz Ostermueller (who was nevertheless throwing righthanded), with a game-winning homer, I threw up my arms in exasperation. Only in Hollywood could a Brooklyn Dodger hit a walk-off homer in Pittsburgh."
It's true. The home run Jackie Robinson hit at Forbes Field in "42" never happened.

Sherrill was interviewed by KOAM-TV's Rudy Harper for a report that aired in Joplin, Missouri, where she now lives.

The high point of the media's embrace of Sherrill's story has to be this article on the TMZ website. The headline holds nothing back. Pitcher's Family PISSED Over Racist Portrayal in "42". The last line of the article got my attention.
"We reached out to the people behind the movie -- so far, no word back."
I've also reached out to Legendary Pictures. I haven't heard back from them either. I had better luck with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The club's Senior Director of Communications was kind enough to provide me with a statement.

“With Mr. Ostermueller passing away more than fifty-five years ago, it is impossible for us to comment either way on the accuracy of his specific portrayal in the movie “42”.   Overall, the movie is a great reminder of Mr. Jackie Robinson’s character, strength and determination.  When he stepped foot on a Major League Baseball field for the first time it was not only the game’s proudest moment, but also its most powerful social statement.   As an organization, thanks to Mr. Robinson, the Pirates are also proud to be the first team in Major League Baseball to field an all-minority starting line-up some 24 years later.”

I've spoken with other people about Fritz Ostermueller. That may lead to even more coverage in the future. It's been great to see so many sharing this story. There have been dissenting opinions about Sherrill's motives and Fritz Ostermueller's true intentions, but I feel the press clippings I uncovered those shared with me by Sherrill are hard to dispute.

When I first spoke with Sherrill in April, she was heartbroken and didn't seem to know what she could do to defend her father's good name. Now, we know how much power she truly holds: A vast trove of mementos, press clippings and memories. Her story is being heard.

Finally, I'll leave you with an example of the ignorance and carelessness that brought us to this point in the first place. Actor Linc Hand, who played Fritz Ostermueller in "42", appeared on "The Artie Lange Show" in April.

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