JOPLIN — The daughter of a pitcher portrayed in the new movie about famed baseball player Jackie Robinson says the movie unfairly characterizes her father as a racist.
In the recently released movie "42," Fritz Ostermueller purposely hits Robinson in the head with a fastball and then tells Robinson: "You don't belong here."
But Ostermueller's daughter, Sherrill Ostermueller-Duesterhaus, 65, told The Joplin Globe that never happened. She said news accounts of the 1947 incident also show that Ostermueller, pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates, actually threw a high inside pitch in the first inning that caught Robinson on the left wrist.
"There is nothing I can do now but try to set the record straight," Duesterhaus said. "My father was a good pitcher. He was a good man. You know, it's hard to defend yourself while you are no longer here. I'm just a daughter trying to defend her dad."
The scene in the new movie about Robinson's rookie year with the Brooklyn Dodgers was meant to convey the racism that Robinson faced when he broke baseball's color barrier. But Duesterhaus said it's unfair to portray her father as a racist.
"Surely there were real incidents of racism that they could have used without making something up," she said. "You shouldn't have to make anything up. Truth and fiction get blurred in this picture. It put a spotlight on my father for the wrong reason."
After she saw the movie, Duesterhaus said she returned to her home in Joplin, where she has lived for about 10 years, and pored over scrapbooks about her father's minor league and major league games. She came across a newspaper clipping about his encounter with Robinson that she had never seen before.
For Duesterhaus, it was as if her father had known that his moment on the mound against Robinson was important and he wanted to set the record straight. The clipping tells the story of how Ostermueller studied Robinson's technique and noticed that Robinson crowded the plate and lunged at every pitch.
In his account of the incident, Ostermueller said: "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 that 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."
Ostermueller retired in 1948 after a long career in professional baseball and died of cancer in 1957 at age 50.
"I can understand Hollywood making a good story, but not at the expense of someone else's memory and legacy," Duesterhaus said. "They never should have identified him by his real name in the movie."