Cooperstown Confidential: What really happened with Fritz Ostermueller and Jackie Robinson

By all accounts, 42 is a wonderful movie, beautifully filmed and superbly acted. It is a film that does a skilled job in telling the story of Jackie Robinson’s entrance into the major leagues and the season-long struggles that he faced as the game’s greatest racial pioneer. It is a film that may earn Harrison Ford an Academy Award nomination for his performance as Branch Rickey.

But there is an ongoing controversy with this film, and it involves the characterization of former Pirates pitcher Fritz Ostermueller. The veteran moundsman is seen intentionally throwing a pitch at Robinson’s head, hitting him with that pitch, and then attempting to insult him with a dismissive and racially tinged remark.

The portrayal has drawn the wrath of Ostermueller’s daughter, who contends that her father was not a racist, but a kind and open-hearted man. “I’d just like people to know that the man that they portrayed was not Fritz Ostermueller, was not my dad,” said his daughter, Sherrill Ostermueller Duesterhaus. “It was Hollywood taking maybe a little piece of history and rewriting it their way.”

“I can understand Hollywood making a good story,” said Sherrill, “but not at an expense of someone else and someone else’s memory and legacy.” Sherrill may not be the most objective source on the subject, but it’s also safe to say that she knew her father better than most people did.

Ostermueller is no longer around to defend himself. Diagnosed with cancer in 1956, he died one year later, at the age of 50. He has been gone for nearly 60 years. So we are left to rely on the testimony of others, a group that includes his surviving family members.

Who was the real Fritz Ostermueller? That is a question that historians like myself are trying to contend with as the film continues to enjoy a successful run in theaters nationwide.

There are at least two clear mistakes in the film’s characterization of Ostermueller. 42 shows him to be a right-handed pitcher; baseball fans who recall the 1930s and 40s will surely remember him to be a left-handed pitcher, and a good one at that. He won 114 games over a decade and a half, finishing in the top 10 in league ERA three times.

Far more importantly, the film shows the Ostermueller/Robinson incident to involve a beanball that nails Robinson in the head. The incident refers to a game between the Dodgers and Pirates at Forbes Field on May 17, 1947. In the top of the first inning, Ostermueller hit Robinson with a pitch, marking the fourth time that Jackie had been hit overall that season. But in actuality, when Ostermueller hit Robinson with a pitch that day, it was in the left arm, and nowhere near his head.

My first reaction to hearing of such inaccuracies was this: if the filmmakers couldn’t correctly identify Ostermueller as a left-handed pitcher, and couldn’t accurately portray Robinson being hit in the arm instead of the head, then what else did they get wrong in portraying Ostermueller? Why should we believe anything that 42 says, or even hints at, about the career of Fritz Ostermueller?

First off, let’s provide a biographical summary of Ostermueller. Born in Quincy, Illinois, he was raised on a dairy farm. After some experience playing in a church league and then for his college team, he signed with Quincy’s minor league club and began working his way up the professional ladder within the Cardinals’ organization. A stint at Rochester showcased him as a star; he led the International League in ERA and drew interest from several major league teams.

With their expansive minor league system and a strong major league rotation, the Cardinals had no room for Ostermueller. The Red Sox purchased the talented left-hander and assigned him to work with Hall of Fame southpaw Herb Pennock, who helped him refine his control. As a rookie in 1934, Ostermueller pitched very well, finishing in the top 10 in ERA among American League hurlers.

Ostermueller’s performance began to dip in his second season. As the decade continued, his ERAs rose into the high 4.00s, even though he reached double figures in wins in 1938 and ‘39. His performance seems to have been affected by arm problems that he first encountered in 1937, resulting in eventual surgery.

The Red Sox ran out of patience with Ostey in 1939. After the season, they sold him and veteran right-hander Denny Galehouse to the St. Louis Browns. The war years brought Ostermueller a considerable level of tumult. He struggled so much that the Browns sent him back to the minors. After he returned, he was hit in the elbow by a batted ball and had to undergo another surgery. As a result of the injury, he came up with a distinctive delivery, which mimicked the motion of a rocking chair and caught the attention of fans and writers.

In 1943, Ostey volunteered to enter the military as part of the World War II effort, but an examination showed him to have arthritis, resulting in his rejection for military service. The Army later reclassified him, allowing him to serve briefly in 1945.

In July of 1943, the Browns traded Ostey to the Brooklyn Dodgers for Bobo Newsome. He seemed to find a home with the Dodgers, where he pitched well in relief for the balance of 1943 and the first half of 1944.

Despite his solid pitching, the Dodgers cut him loose in midseason and tried to send him to the minor leagues, a move that Ostey protested. Dodgers GM Branch Rickey didn’t like Ostermueller, whom he referred to as “not my kind of a pitcher.” Part of the dislike stemmed from the feeling that his veteran left-hander drank too much. As sportswriter Tim Cohane once wrote: “[Ostermueller] has been known occasionally in the past to quaff a species of liquid refreshment more stimulating than beef tea.” Rickey took note of the habit, and Ostey never forgave Rickey for the slight.

Initially signing with the Reds, Ostermueller then signed with Pittsburgh and emerged as an effective pitcher for the Pirates over the next three and a half seasons. It was with Pittsburgh that Osty coined the famous saying that was originally credited to his Hall of Fame teammate, Ralph Kiner: “Home run hitters drive Cadillacs; single hitters drive Fords.”

Though Ostermueller was now in his late thirties, he put up two of his best seasons in 1945 and ‘46, winning a combined 25 games. (I guess it was quite appropriate that Ostermueller was nicknamed “Old Folks.”) The consummate crafty left-hander, he relied on control and deception. In some ways, Osty enjoyed the last laugh on Rickey.

Ostermueller remained an effective pitcher in 1947, Robinson’s rookie season. But his career took a downturn in 1948, forcing him into retirement.

As a pitcher, Ostermueller had an uneven but respectable 15-year career. He showed resiliency in coming back from multiple surgeries, and overcoming multiple rejections from various teams.

Now for the more pertinent issue. In trying to come up with answers about Ostermueller’s character, I began my search by examining his file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. It is a decent-sized file, with about 40 or so newspaper clippings. Unfortunately, most of the clips are pre-1947, so they give us no indication as to his feelings regarding race relations. Of the few articles that are dated from 1947, there is no discussion of the game in which he hit Robinson with a pitch; there is not even a passing mention of the now-famous incident.

In looking at the articles post-1947, there are just a few mentions of Ostermueller’s pitching career, along with two different obituaries. Once again, the articles offer no discussion of the Robinson incident, and no examination of his racial attitudes. In a column written by Pittsburgh writer Al Abrams, Ostermueller is described as “a particular favorite” of the writer. There is certainly no indication that he was any kind of a racist or a hater.

So based on his clippings file, Ostermueller looks good. But the absence of any written allegations of racism does not necessarily make him innocent of the charges posed in 42. After all, the issue of race was not always discussed in the mainstream press, even in 1947 when Robinson was making history.

Having exhausted Ostermueller’s clippings file, I next made my move toward the Internet, trying to read as many biographical articles as possible. One of the best sources comes from SABR’s Biographical Project, which features an extensive bio written by John F. Green. There is not a single mention of Jackie Robinson, or even the words “race” or “racism” in this lengthy article, which is perhaps the most extensive biographical effort made of Ostey’s career. Similarly, I found no evidence of race being brought up in other Internet articles that predated the ongoing issue surrounding 42.

That leaves us with one other avenue, and that is perhaps the most useful source in a story of this kind. Are there any surviving teammates of Ostermueller who might give us some insight into his character? This is where the helping hand of a Pittsburgh writer named Bob Hurte, who is a friend of mine, comes into play. A historian and budding author, Hurte has communicated in recent years with one of Ostermueller’s teammates, a man who seemed to have first-hand knowledge of Ostey’s feelings. At the time of Hurte’s conversation with him, this player preferred to remain anonymous; he did not want to publicly impugn his late teammate or his family, nor did he want to become embroiled in a public controversy. But this player told Hurte that Ostermueller did portray bigoted sentiments during his time with the Pirates. The unnamed teammate said that Ostermueller once referred to Robinson by saying, “I’m going to hit that black bastard.” Based on that remark, the teammate believed that Ostermueller threw at Robinson intentionally, and for reasons having to do with race.

It is the player’s prerogative to remain anonymous. And it is certainly ethical for Hurte to respect the player’s right to privacy. At the same time, Hurte believed (and still believes) that the teammate is a credible source, one without an axe to grind. He believed the teammate when he described Ostermueller in such a way. And I happen to think that Hurte is being perfectly forthright and sincere here, to the point that I am willing to use Hurte as a secondary source.

Now for some readers, that might not be good enough. And I understand that. But given the passage of time, and the lack of eyewitnesses surviving from the 1940s, it is the best we have to go on in trying to reconstruct events from nearly 70 years ago.

So what conclusions can we draw from this experience? First off, 42 erred badly in its characterization of Ostermueller, particularly in showing him to have hit head Robinson in the head, when he did not. That’s an important detail to miss, and one that exaggerates the severity of the incident.

Second, Ostermueller does not seem to be completely innocent. Based on the recollections of a teammate, Ostermueller had racist feelings, and allowed those feelings to manifest themselves in the form of a hateful incident. That doesn’t necessarily make Ostermueller any different from many players of that era, but it is an incident that is definitely part of the Robinson story.

Both the filmmakers and Ostermueller appear to have made mistakes. Let’s hope the final record reflects those shortcomings.

References & Resources
Fritz Ostermueller’s biographical file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library

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  1. Jim said...

    Nothing in the Sporting News about it that I could find.

    Thank you for the article.  I heard the producer wanted it to be as factual as possible.  How could he miss the handed-ness?  I can understand the location of the HBP, the arm is not too sexy, but the head is.

    • KB said...

      Also, that pitch would have hit him in the head if Robinson didn’t bring his hand up to defend himself. That’s why it hit him in the wrist.

  2. Marc Schneider said...

    I knew that Robinson had been spiked repeatedly and so forth but never heard that he was actually beaned.  If this incident was made up, ie, showing him getting hit in the head instead of the arm, that’s pretty problematic IMO.  It’s one thing to hit someone in the arm, whether intentionally or not, another to hit him in the head. 

    This is always the problem with historical movies, including “Lincoln.”  There is always a tendency to play loose with the facts-indeed, often a necessity-for dramatic purposes. Whether Ostermueller was a racist or not, he doesn’t deserve to be tarred with hitting Robinson in the head if he did not do so.

    • Renee said...

      You’re kidding right..amazing how ppl are still trying to act like racist ppl don’t exist. He was a racist and any actions he did were racially motivated. Whether it was in the arm or head…

      • Daniel said...

        Renee you are right if his intentions were to hit Robinson based on race is wrong but the movie 42 is based on true events if Robinson wasn’t hit in the head but the left arm them the film makers had a duty in my opinion to portray the actual events that happened and not use creative license the movie 42 is a good movie based on (true) events and the film makers should of respected everyone’s actions right or wrong that were portrayed in the movie

      • Brendan Barnett said...

        You’re wrong. I HATE that people just automatically SAY racist. Were you there? NO. Fritz was MY grandpas uncle who grew up watching this man play ball! MY grandfather says he was NOT racist. If the producer wanted to be so factual how did he mess up the fact that Fritz was a LEFT HANDED pitcher. They threw Fritz under the bus Big time. Fritz grew up in a family that accepted people of all races and I will defend him because he can not defend himself now. Fritz was known as one of the ”old men” in the game and team mates looked up to him.

        Robinson leaned into pitches and was hit more than any other player aside from one! Here is an excerpt from his daughter : Duesterhaus produced an article from a Pittsburgh newspaper in 1947 in which her father said Robinson crowded the plate, making pitching to him difficult. Ostermueller played for the Pittsburgh Pirates at the time.

        “I told my wife the night before I pitched that I might have trouble with Robinson – that one of my pitches would hit him, if he didn’t move back,” Ostermueller said in the article.

        “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.”

    • KB said...

      Wendell Smith wrote about how that pitch would have hit him in the head if Robinson hadn’t brought his hand up to defend himself. That’s why it hit him in the wrist.

  3. Dan Holmes said...

    Top notch work as always, Bruce.

    I haven’t seen “42”, mostly because I have never seen a baseball biopic that was worth a damn. Sounds like this one is shoddy too, if they can’t get basic information correct.

    I always thought it was ironic that probably the most interesting baseball player in history, Moe Berg, has never had a full-length movie made of his life. In berg’s case there wouldn’t be any need for reckless embellishment.

  4. bucdaddy said...

    Bob who? You don’t mean Bob Hertzel, do you?

    Also, Sherrill Ostermueller Duesterhaus is a great, great name. Just sayin’.

  5. Lou D. said...

    Hollywood takes liberties in film to make a composite of characters to fit the back story. In this case I’d say they used a composite of pitchers from that era which ended up being Ostermueller. Hence the right hander. It is believable that there probably were many pitchers at that time that tried to hit Jackie Robinson in the head so again that’s Hollywood using artistic license. After all Field of Dreams would have you believe Shoeless Joe Jackson threw left handed and batted from the right side (Ray Liotta). In fact he was just the opposite.

  6. studes said...

    Terrific job, Bruce.  Thanks for sharing your research—that part of the movie bothered me too.

  7. John C said...

    How much of the reason Ostermuller hit Robinson was because of his race, or because in the 13 games prior to that one, Robinson had hit safely in every one, and raised his average from .227 to .290? Throwing at his arm suggests that Osty was trying to send a message to a red-hot hitter who just happened to be black. If he was motivated by racial hatred, then he really would have thrown at Robinson’s head. He may not have liked having to compete against a black player, but my guess is that he was doing exactly that—doing something that he thought would give him a competitive advantage in the long run.

  8. Joe Distelheim said...

    One nice side note, from Jonathan Eig’s “Opening Day,” which recounts Robinson’s first season:  The next time Robinson played and Ostermueller was on the mound, Robinson stole home on him—the steal that began Robinson’s reputation for pulling off that feat.

    Strong piece, Bruce.

  9. Bruce Markusen said...

    Bucdaddy, the writer is Bob Hurte, just as the article says. He is a Pittsburgh area writer.

  10. Paul W Dennis said...

    Hollywood definitely plays fast and loose with facts they find inconvenient. Jackie Robinson was very much a Christian and his faith was a very strong part of his character. But as in the Johnny Cash biopic I WALK THE LINE, Hollywood has eradicated that aspect of Robinson’s life, thereby turning the film into fiction – again

  11. John Fox said...

    We’re over thinking this, i believe.  The producers were looking for somebody who hit Jackie Robinson with a pitch at the appropriate part of 1947.  Oh, and that person had to be dead, so they couldn’t sue.  Whether it was a right or left handed pitcher, whether the hbp was in the arm or the head didn’t matter, they just wanted to advance their narrative.  The Hollywood types would just assume any pitcher who hit Jackie Robinson would have to be a racist, pretty much by definition, at least their definition.
    A similar example from another sport is the movie “Elmira Express” about Heisman trophy winner Ernie Davis of the Syracuse Orangemen.  In that film there is depicted a 1959 game at West Virginia with all sorts of racial insensitivity by the fans.  Except that Syracuse played West Virginia in Syracuse in 1959, the whole scene was fictitious, but it advanced their narrative.

  12. Michael Caragliano said...

    Here;s another possibility…. what if Ostermueller hit Robinson, or disliked him, or whatever, simply because he was Branch Rickey’s pet project. You said, Bruce, that Ostermueller wasn’t fond of Rickey after he let him go, so what if his dislike of Robinson was less racially-motivated than it was personally by extension? You can’t get back at Rickey, so you drill his player in the arm. In fact, I wonder now how Ostermueller fared against Brooklyn in the later years of his career.

    As for 42 itself… well, it was a solid movie, but you always go into a movie with the willingness to suspend belief. You wouldn’t buy a ticket to any movie if you couldn’t. I thought the producers did a bigger disservice to the facts when they said Leo Durocher was suspended for adultery rather than for hanging out with friends who were gamblers. As for Robinson/Ostermueller, the moment I didn’t like was when Jackie hit the homer off him, and then stood there for a second and admired it. That’s something players do in 2013, but in 1947, that would’ve guaranteed Ostermueller hitting him in the head his next time up for real.

    They missed a few things- I, for one, would’ve liked to have seen the reaction in the Dodgers dugout when Dan Bankhead joined the team that summer, and the steal of home would’ve been a great scene in the middle of the film. Ostermueller had Hank Greenberg as a teammate in 1947; I’ve heard a story about Greenberg reaching first in one of those games and encouraging Jackie to hang in there. That would’ve made a decent :30 clip. Overall, though, despite the dramatic license, they got the look and feel of 1947 right.

    One last thought… Enos Slaughter was alive in 1994, when Ken Burns mentioned- just mentioned!- his spiking Robinson, and he was livid. He said the mere mention of the incident portrayed him as a racist and was quick to say he was not. Slaughter is now dead, so as long as we’re wondering how Ostermueller himself would’ve reacted, I wonder how Slaughter would’ve reacted to seeing a re-enactment of the spiking incedent.

  13. djm said...

    Adding to the list of sports pics playing with the truth and, in particular, with a dead man’s reputation, there’s Cinderella Man.  Max Baer is portrayed as a cruel, thoughtless killer in the boxing ring when it’s on pretty much every record that he was a charming, humorous, good-time playboy who was plagued with nightmares about an opponent’s death. 

    When movies are based on true stories, the “based” is often just as operative as the “true”. I’d shrug such inconsistencies off except when you attach a man’s name to it – especially a dead one; then there’s something particularly odorous about it.

  14. bucdaddy said...

    Thanks, Bruce. I asked because I used to work with and for Bob Hertzel, who covered MLB beats for several papers, notably Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, and IIRC wrote a couple of books about the Reds, “Charlie Hustle” and “The Big Red Machine.”

    So the name similarity and line of work are purely coincidental; you can understand why I was bumfuzzled there for a minute.

  15. Eric O said...

    In a time when we know for sure every other player was racist, why do this? To create tension in the movie? Eyewitness testimony is so unreliable, but why not believe a 9,000yr old guy that could be remembering events in his own way.

  16. InnocentBystander said...

    I agree with John Fox’s interpretation that the movie is just trying to advance their narrative. Hollywood doesn’t know or care if Ostermueller was really a racist or not. Let’s put it another way, Bruce has the wherewithal to do all of this research (great job, by the way). And the *only* thing he can come up with is one story from an anonymous source to a writer that he’s lucky enough to know personally. That’s it. Does anybody believe that Hollywood did a fraction of this research? Or they happened to also get the same story from Hurte? I’m doubtful. I don’t think that they put in any effort because it doesn’t matter to the story they are trying to tell.

  17. Greg Simons said...

    Eric O: “In a time when we know for sure every other player was racist.”  Really, every single MLB player in 1947 was racist?  That’s a bold – and certainly incorrect – blanket statement to make about several hundred men from 66 years ago.

    • chuck andelman said...

      In a PRE World War II poll of Major League baseball players, 80% said they wouldn’t object to playing with a Negro.

    • Will said...

      I would agree that not “every” white player in MLB was racist in the 40’s since as a % there are so many interracial children out here, even back then so OBVIOUSLY ( besides rape that is) there were and still are a WHOLE LOT of non racist white people who LOVE some black people, and vice versa! LOL… just trying to add some levity to this conversation.

  18. Jim said...

    Now I know why I don’t watch movies, it’s all garbage.  Problem is others do and think it’s all truthful and act on it.  Same as television.  We have become a non-thinking society.  Just follow the person with the loudest sound track.

    Wonder what else in 42 is a bald faced lie.

  19. Robert Haymond said...

    This was an excellent piece on history and historical methodology.  It just happens to be about baseball.  I’ve really appreciated the exercise.  Furthermore, the following commentaries have been educational, especially Michael’s, which suggest an alternative motive for the hit-by-pitch but not beanball.  thanks to all of you starting with Bruce.

  20. Marc Schneider said...

    There are a lot of issues with making racism with respect to Jackie Robinson a black and white issue (I know, it’s a bad pun).  As Yehoshua noted,it was a much rougher time, with less sensitivity toward people’s feelings. Using ethnic slurs was a regular way that ballplayer’s spoke. 

    Another issue is that players were terrified for their jobs.  In the days before free agency, the teams treated players like so much cattle, unless they were stars like Williams or DiMaggio. Professional baseball was mean because players knew they could lose their jobs at any time-and, for a lot of these men, they had few other goo options in life.  It’s quite possible that, aside fron any native racism-which obviously existed-many of the white players feared that the influx of black players would take away their jobs.  So, I think it’s more complex than saying players were racist or not racist; by today’s standards, most certainly were, just as most white people in general were racist to one degree or another.  But that may not have necessarily been the primary motive in their treatment of Robinson, at least for some.

    That’s not to say, of course, that Robinson did not experience a virulent racism that other players did not, if for no other reason than he was the first.  But, I suspect, there were a complex mix of motives among the players.

    I have to say something about the anti-Hollywood sentiments expressed here. While I agree that they should strive to get the story as historically accurate as possible, there is always a tension between making a dramatically appealing movie and adhering strictly to the facts.  It doesn’t do any good to make a movie that bores the pants off people. Personally, I might have fictionalized the Obermueller character but we really don’t know if he was a racist or not, and, to be honest, it hardly matters.  Moreover, the fact that he was a good father to his daughter and a “kind” man doesn’t necessarily preclude him from having racist thoughts, especially in the context of the times.  And, let’s face it, how many people even know who Obermueller was. 

    Frankly, whether or not Robinson was a devout Christian hardly seems relevent. That’s the first I have ever heard of that.  Even if he was and the movie played it down, that hardly makes it a piece of fiction.  Maybe he also liked strawberry ice cream-big deal.  Frankly, I suspect that a lot of the anti-Hollywood comments here come from conservatives who just don’t like Hollywood liberals.

  21. Jim said...

    No, the producer said he tried to make the movie as factual as possible and he failed miserably, which makes him a liar. 

    I understand it is a good movie if you don’t know anything about Jackie Robinson and there are now two generations of those people.  But having grown up in that era, I have heard, it is more a refresher course. 

    I have not seen the movie as I refuse to pay theater prices to get shot or have someone yell and scream.  I am awaiting Netflix.

    • Marc Rettus said...

      Jim, you are probably a bigoted conservative.

      Well, that’s what the bigoted liberal wrote right before you.

      And quit with this “pointing out facts” nonsense. FACTS DON’T MATTER!!!!!!!!


  22. Greg Simons said...

    Marc Schneider – “Frankly, I suspect that a lot of the anti-Hollywood comments here come from conservatives who just don’t like Hollywood liberals.”

    Really?  That’s quite presumptuous.

  23. Yehoshua Friedman said...

    I don’t even think that players were necessarily racist (implying an ideology of hate and sense of superiority) even if they used racial or ethnic epithets. If you knew that the guy on the other team was black, Jewish, Irish or Italian, you used eptithets to get under his skin even if you may have a player of the same ethnicity on your team who was your best buddy. Granted, at the time of Robinson that didn’t exist yet. But it was quite common to call an Italian guy a wop or spaghetti-bender or whatever just to try to make him lose his concentration. True, it is documented that Ty Cobb, for example, viciously hated blacks, and when he used the n-word he meant every drop of it. But not everyone was that way. Today in the days of PC it’s hard to understand that, but that’s the way it was.

  24. Martin said...

    He hit him on the left arm, yes. But he was aiming for the head, it just so happened that Jackie’s left arm was in the way.

  25. chuck andelman said...

    Just saw 42 again. One of the major figures- in many ways- that was on the Pirate club in ’47 was Hank Greenberg, their first baseman. Greenberg had to take a lot of anti -semitic slurs during his playing days,though he acknowledged it was a different order than what Robinson had to put up with. He also had no Branch Rickey figure telling him not to retaliate physically. Greenberg was perhaps the most supportive of Robinson of any ballplayer of the Dodgers’ opponents. Seeing as the Pittsburgh ownership had to literally beg him not to retire after his trade from Detroit, he would have had a lot of clout in the club house. In 42, in the Pirate games scenes we never see Jackie running to or by first base. If the Pirate’s games depicted in the film were mostly accurate – and that’s a big if – it seems very likely that big Hank would have his say with Ostermuller.. It seems 100% likely if his second baseman, as in the film. started chirping those raciest taunts, Hank would have threatened him with bodily harm.

  26. Brendan barnett said...

    Fritz is my grandfathers uncle. He was more know for giving up a couple of jacks to Ruth late in Ruths career. My grandpa says Fritz was NOT a racist.

  27. Richard Neiswonger said...

    I watched Fritz pitch many a time when I was a kid.. My favorite pitcher at that time was Rip Sewell.
    Sometimes Fritz and Rip would team up on Sunday doubleheaders.. For 75 cents I sat in the hot left field bleachers and saw two games. I used to pack a lunch an jump on the street cars..
    Why do I remember Fritz so well? Because he was a southpaw just like me and as a kid I even change my wind up to emulate him when I pitched.. In the movie he was portrayed as a righty and didn’t double pump..
    I went into the Navy in 1946 so I didn’t get to see him hit #42… I know I never read anything about him and his
    prejudices so if he had them the sports writers never let it out..
    To his daughter Sherrill , I enjoyed watching your dad pitch and picked out his scheduled game to go to..
    Money was tight in those days and I didn’t get to go often.
    Only one other pitcher I remember from your dad’s days and that was Mel Queen .. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to him years ago when we both worked for North American Aviation. ..

  28. Marco said...

    There is a thing that people miss here.

    This is no documentary. “Based on the true story” is an indicator for the fact that it’s based on the true story but not necessarily THE 100% true story.
    So for the flow of a film and the drama a bit of alteration is fine. If I want to see something 100% factual correct I really watch a documentary or read one. If I watch a Hollywood film then I want to be entertained by it mostly.

    Also I am glad the writer of this article dug so deep to find the truth and the sources seem credible, so I don’t see a big problem with Ostermueller being depicted as a racist.

    The comments mentioning that spouting racial slurs didn’t mean that people were racist at that time, but that it just was a thing of the time are sickening. Racial slurs are always racist. It doesn’t matter whether everyone did it back then or no one.
    People need to stop being so goddamn proud and should take a step back and just admit that a lot of people in America were bigoted racists back then (a lot are still). Just as much as the Germans around that time had to face the truth that they were cowards and in a sense co-perpetrators for not standing up against Hitler and accepting his terror reign.

    About the movie. It was great I thought. I don’t know too much about Baseball to be honest, but it felt very authentic. The actors did a fantastic job. The story of Jackie Robinson is inspiring and I hope it keeps inspiring everyone who is still not accepted in today’s society, whether he or she looks different, loves a person of his own gender or believes in another religion.

  29. Theresa MJ said...

    This writer could have had another confirmation. Ralph Branca is still alive. In the movie he goes after Fritz O. after the pitch that hit Robinson. So, big deal, it was his arm and not Robinson’s head, which BTW could have ended his career as well. Jackie needed both arms I believe to continue to play baseball.

    FO certainly knew that as he required surgery according to this article. I grew up as a Pirates fan and still love the Steelers. Pittsburgh was a lousy team at that time. That soon changed when Rickey, who sent the Hall of Fame, Dixie Walker to the Pirates, left Brooklyn and went to lead the Pirate organization.

    If I’m wrong fellas, please feel free to let me have it.

  30. Mike said...

    Did you attempt to contact Sherrill Duesterhaus as a source for this story? You contend that you could’t find any newspaper articles related to this incident, yet according to this article:
    Such a newspaper clipping does exist and Sherrill Duesterhaus has it. How hard did you look?
    Your conclusion leans heavily toward a conviction of racism for Fritz Ostermueller based on a secret informant who doesn’t mind trashing a man’s reputation as long as he can be a coward while he does it (if he even exists). Your smoking gun in this conviction is the phrase “I’m going to hit that black bastard”. In 1947. When racial sensitivity (or any other kind) didn’t exist. Even if that phrase was spoken, isn’t it likely it was slang used to refer to an opponent who crowded the plate? In 1947 people didn’t think the way they do today, and it was likely commonplace and absolutely not racist to speak that way when discussing how you would intimidate an opponent. In 1947 I’m sure people also said, “That Italian bastard”, or, “That Jew bastard”, or if referring to the writers of this movie, “Those full of shit slanderous bastards”.
    Hollywood doesn’t mind destroying a man’s legacy to stir racial tensions while making a buck, and it’s a shame you would jump on that bandwagon with no real evidence. Guilty until proven innocent I guess.

  31. Bruce Markusen said...

    Mike, please look at the dates of the articles. My article appeared on May 10, 2014 (and was actually submitted the night before). The Huffington Post article appeared the next day, May 11, so I did not see it before finishing my article.

    Now, even if I had seen the article, I’m not sure that Sherrill is the best possible source on this particular story. I believe she was born in either 1947 or ’48, so she would have been too young to remember this incident specifically. The player who was my source was a teammate of Ostermueller.

  32. said...

    First, I would like to say that the story of the baseball legend, Jackie Robinson, is an inspiration to us all. I cannot imagine the courage that this man showed. But this “authentic” movie was marred with untruths about a long forgotten Pirate pitcher, Fritz Ostermueller. It is a shame to honor one man at the expense of another’s. Fritz was a 39 year old, soft throwing, left hander who had intended to retire after the ’47 season. He only returned in ’48 because the Pirates called and asked him back and he couldn’t resist the call of spring training. So the statement made by Linc Hand, the young, right handed actor who said that my Father was “afraid that Jackie would take his place” is absurd. Fact.. in 1947 Jackie was second in the National League in being hit by pitched balls and in ’48 he led the league. Also Jackie was never “beaned” in his career. In an original article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Les Biederman wrote, “Jackie Robinson collected a clean 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.” This was written in 1947 not 17 years ago. Also in the PP-G, Al Abrams wrote an article, (“Old Folks” Talks on Pitching) which I have also…he wrote…”Fritz Ostermueller has ben 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 he quoted my Dad…”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 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 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…” Call me crazy but it sounds like just baseball to me. I am telling you that Fritz was not a racist. FYI, I was born in ’46 and yes, I was too young to remember this but my Mother told me of this and she told it like it was “just baseball”, like the story she told me about my Dad striking out Babe Ruth. Even Wendell Smith wrote that the Pirates were particularly hospitable and friendly to Jackie. He also wrote that Fritz was apologetic, not the actions of a racist, and if you read, “My Own Story” by Jackie and Wendell, (it is his account of the ’47 season) you will find my Dad mentioned on pages 147 and 163, along with Pollet and Beggs …the subject? Stolen bases and that is all. Jackie and Fritz faced each other many times after this and there were no issues. About the last scene in the movie? Jackie in reality hit a homerun in the fourth inning it was not a game winner nor a pennant clincher. Also notice Jackie in his home whites at Forbes….and I guarantee my Dad never yelled anything like they had him yelling in that movie…so out of character…no research done here folks. I have received letters and phone calls (tho Hollywood couldn’t find me for any verification) from older guys who knew my Dad, who watched him pitch, who got autographs….one actually at the game that day, Sam Reich of Pittsburgh who has a radio show and has defended my Dad from day one. Sports writers like Murray Chass who wrote, “The problem is a very few people who have seen or will see the Robinson film know who Ostermueller was and their lasting impression of him will be that he was a racist. That, however, is not who he was and he deserves better, even the make-believe world of Hollywood.” Sally O’Leary, editor of the Black and Gold, the official Pittsburgh Pirate alumni newsletter, wrote a great three page article and had contacted Eddie Basinski (note not an anonymous teammate)…she wrote, ” Ed Basinski , second baseman, remembers Fritz as one of the Pirates’ top pitchers and in all his dealings and conversations with him, he never felt any hint that he had an issue with the integration of black players into the major leagues.” Author Richard Peterson gave a presentation to the Forbes Field chapter of SABR in support of Fritz and a great interview on Pittsburgh’s PBS radio show just a couple of weeks ago. I can tell you that my Dad was a great Dad, that he helped young American Legion players after retirement, that he was liked by fans, sports writers, teammates ( I have an article of how the Brooklyn fans still liked him after going to Pittsburgh, so much that they gave him a standing ovation and Brooklyn fans were not known to do that). That his family members loved and admired him, that he was an all around nice person…but then that is just my word. But the facts do not fit this movie. And I appreciate all the people that have done their own research and have given me their support. Also thanks to family and friends that knew Dad as they grew up and to family that I haven’t met that have expressed support. They know Fritz was misrepresented in a story about the game he loved. He did no dishonor to baseball… it is time baseball restored his honor.

    • Kyle C said...

      I am from Quincy, IL and have been around Mr. Ostermueller’s kids and grandkids, and I just happen to be black. I was not old enough to personally meet Mr. Ostermueller, I have met those who he has left behind and I will tell you that they are beautiful people, both inside and out. I was VERY good friends and teammates with one of his grandson’s, knew his granddaughter (BEAUTIFUL young lady, both inside and outside), their younger brother and their parents….NEVER EVER A SINGLE HINT OF RACISM in them AT ALL! And again, thought I have never met Mr. Fritz Ostermueller and maybe he did or maybe he didn’t intentionally hit Jackie based off of his color (I don’t know and frankly I do not care), I tend to measure those that have gone before me based off of the legacy that they leave. I will say, in his kids and grandkids…he left an AMAZING legacy!

  33. Marti said...

    Fritz was my uncle’s brother. I was told he only had one daughter, nicknamed Chi Chi, who was biracial. This doesn’t sound like he was a racist. His wife & daughter lived close to my parents, but I never met them. I maybe wrong about this, but I hope his daughter lets me know.

  34. said...

    Marti….who was your uncle? Yes, I am Chee Chee (that is the way my Dad spelled it)…but I am not biracial…I am an adopted Heinz Variety of Irish, Scott, English and a tad of Dutch thrown in for good measure. Where did you live? Sorry we never met. Fritz and Faye were great parents and neither of them were racist…I believe the movie people picked a name and went with it…they did no research on my Dad whatsoever!

  35. said...

    Re: the likelihood of Fritz O being as racially biased, if at all, as is portrayed in 42:

    My dad was Fritz O’s 2nd cousin (I’m told), and I’ve met & stayed in contact with Fritz’ daughter, Sherrill. My family (in St. Louis) visited the ‘Quincy Ostermueller’s” ( a relatively large & mufti-generation group) in Quincy and in St. Louis more than a few times that I recall, & my Mom & Dad stayed in touch with them always. My dad secured a signed baseball from Fritz to me as a gift in 1945, & my mom tells me that Fritz often brought both teammates & opposing players to a home-cooked dinner at our modest home in St. Louis on many occasions…I don’t have a memory of those events as I was pre-4 or 5 years old at the time.

    I grew up in a socially liberal/ fiscally conservative family & environment, and my dad was the rock underpinning the socially liberal part, for sure. I likely didn’t recognize either liberal or conservative as descriptive or even opposing viewpoints from anything I learned at home…I only recognize those terms looking-back & thru today’s pervasive PC prism.

    The point I’d like to make is that those conditions I describe above suggest strongly to me that my dad would never had continued or even encouraged connection with anyone, including family, that exhibited the implied attitude/ prejudice attributed to the Fritz O character as portrayed in 42. My dad securing that baseball signed to me by Fritz is evidence-enough that Fritz O met a high bar to be memorialized & purposely connected to me & our family in that way…

    Just as a baseball fan, I give most credibility to the info offered by both Marti & Sherrill above, that Fritz O was a good man by the standards of the time in which he lived & was a skillful & competitive pitcher who threw inside regularly (not to hit, but to “own his half” of the batter-pitcher plate control duel (‘ever heard of Bob Gibson or other dominant pitchers of his era?…’same brush-back & competitive style). Further, Jackie’s style was equally competitive and known to “contest” home plate control…If Fritz didn’t anticipate that he might hit Jackie (or other aggressive hitters) on a regular basis, he wasn’t the smart competitor that many have said he certainly was.

    I saw 42 with my grandson; we were surprised that Fritz was even a part of that movie, & shocked & incredulous at how he was portrayed as he was in the movie…Overall, we liked Jackie’s story in 42 and the portrayal of the earlier times in baseball. And, as forgiveness is always for the forgiver, not for the perceived offender, I’m grateful for all the positive things brought-forth by 42; I’m especially impressed by the classiness & loyal support shown to both Sherrill & to Fritz by the ‘Pirates Alumni folks and by the support & diligence of both the Pittsburgh sportswriters/ press, as well as those in & around MLB…thanks to 42’s writers/ producers for the “whole package,” warts & all, & thanks to Jackie & to all those who supported & encouraged him, and thanks to Branch Rickey (warts & all) as well!

  36. said...

    Apologies…Correction to my earlier posting…the Ostermueller family in Quincy was a MULTI-generation group & NOT a mufti-generation group, as I originally wrote…no particular Islamic background or lineage that I know of)…even SPELL CHECK has its limitations…

  37. Jerry Stern said...

    The best evidence is that the ball was on its way for Robinson’s head until Robinson blocked it with his hand/wrist.

    It is also clear that Rickey’s and Robinson’s “great experiment” was hated by almost all players and Major League team owners. Half of the Dodgers did not want him to join the team. So, let’s be realistic about the high-minded Ostermeuller. He wasn’t one of the few players who was rooting for Robinson.

    Remember please: he did hit Robinson, and rationalizing that it was because Robinson had stolen home earlier in the season off him or that it was because Robinson was on a hitting streak, and not because of race, is absurd.

    There is no excuse for the film to show Robinson being hit in the head, but the film cannot fully capture the abuse Robinson faced, and that was not clearly not exaggerated.

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