Quincy native plays key, yet unflattering role in Robinson biopic

Frederick “Fritz” Ostermueller, a Quincy native and former Major League pitcher, is seen on a baseball card. He is portrayed as one of two villians in the Jackie Robinson biopic “42,” in theaters now. Family members say the portrayal is unfair.
Posted: Apr. 28, 2013 12:49 am Updated: May. 12, 2013 2:15 am
Linc Hand portrays Quincy native and Major League pitcher Fritz Ostermueller in the Jackie Robinson biopic “42.” Among the factual liberties taken with Ostermueller’s character is the fact that he is portrayed as a right-handed pitcher.

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

At first, Sherill Duesterhaus didn't have plans to see the blockbuster movie "42," which chronicles how Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947.

Duesterhaus, a Quincy native, is a huge baseball fan. Her father, Frederick "Fritz" Ostermueller, is one of the few people from Quincy who have played Major League Baseball. He was in the twilight of a 15-year career, pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates, during Robinson's rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Ostermueller plays a key role in "42," which opened to high praise and huge box office numbers earlier this month. However, that role that won't win him many fans in theatres around America. He is one of two villains in the film.

Duesterhaus, who is retired and now lives in Joplin, Mo., says her father was wrongly portrayed.

"I was shocked and hurt with the way they are portraying him," she said. "It's Hollywood sensationalism, if you ask me."

Ostermueller, whose role is played by Linc Hand, is shown twice during the film. He first is introduced during a game early in the season. The sequence shows Ostermueller beaning Robinson with a pitch.

Records show Ostermueller did hit Robinson with a pitch in a game on May 17, 1947. In the movie, the ball hit Robinson near his left temple. In reality, the ball hit Robinson's arm as he tried to protect himself from the ball. He was never hit in the head.

Frankie Gustine, a teammate of Ostermueller's, apologized to Robinson when he reached first base later in the game, according to an account of the game written by Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier.

"I'm sure he didn't mean it," Gustine told Robinson.

Duesterhaus had asked her mother, Faye, about that incident before.

"I don't think it had anything to do with who (Robinson) was," Duesterhaus said. "From what my Mom told me, (Robinson) was crowding the plate, and Dad was trying to brush him back."

That at-bat was just the start of the creative license filmmakers took with Ostermueller's role in games played between the Pirates and Dodgers that year.

The last scene of the movie has Robinson facing Ostermueller again. The producers painted a picture that the pennant was on the line for the Dodgers during a game at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Ostermueller throws another beanball at Robinson, then tells him after the near miss that he didn't belong in the big leagues.

Soon after that, Robinson hits a dramatic home run that lifts the Dodgers to the pennant.

Yes, Robinson did hit a home run off Ostermueller late in that season. It happened in the fourth inning of a game on Sept. 17, a 4-2 Brooklyn victory. However, the Dodgers didn't clinch the pennant until Sept. 22.

The movie's producers couldn't even get which hand Ostermueller threw the ball with correctly. He threw left-handed, while the actor who plays him in the field throws right-handed throughout the film.

"It just really upsets me," Duesterhaus said. "He was such a good guy.

"Maybe what also upsets me is that fact in his hometown there are still some older people who knew him, and they are going to see this movie and read about it and think, ‘Oh, gosh, did we really know him?' Yes, you did. He was a good guy."

Ostermueller died in 1957 at the age of 50. Duesterhaus was only 11 years old at the time of his death. She was the only child of Faye and Fritz Ostermueller.

Ostermueller still has family in Quincy, including a nephew. Jerry Ostermueller said his uncle was nothing like the way he has been portrayed in "42."

"I can't see it," Jerry Ostermueller said.

Jerry Ostermueller, 77, said Fritz took an interest in trying to make him a baseball player by building him a pitchers' mound and a strike zone to throw at.

"He told me that once you get to the point where you can put the ball through the hole nine times out of 10 without scuffing it, then you'll have something that I never had, and that was control," Jerry Ostermueller said.

Fritz Ostermueller compiled a 114-115 record while pitching for the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Browns, Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. He retired in 1948 when he was 40 years old and returned to Quincy. Upon his return home, Ostermueller worked as a color commentator for Quincy Gems baseball games. He built and operated the Diamond Motel on North 12th. That hotel recently was demolished.

After hearing about how her father was portrayed, Sherill Ostermueller eventually went to see the movie last week.

"I enjoyed it unitl the ‘true story' went south," she said.

Duesterhaus and Jerry Ostermueller both said they were not contacted by anyone while the movie was in production. Duesterhaus said she would have been happy to tell them what kind of man her father was.

"They could have asked me," she said.