Freddie Fitzsimmons was born in 1901 on a farm in Tipton County, and his family moved to Mishawaka around 1906. When Fred was growing up, they lived in several different homes on the city’s north and east sides. On the sandlots of the Princess City, young Fitzsimmons learned the game that would be his livelihood for over forty years.
Fitzsimmons’s professional baseball career began with minor league Muskegon, where he was a pitcher from 1920-22. He was good enough to catch the eye of the Indianapolis Indians, for whom he played until 1925, when the New York Giants acquired his services. Fitz made his major league debut with the Giants on August 12, 1925– the first and only major leaguer to come from Mishawaka. This was the first of his 513 major league appearances.
Known for his knuckleball, fielding, and competitiveness, Fitzsimmons was one of the top pitchers of the 1920s and ’30s. He was a 20-game winner in 1928, led the National League in winning percentage in 1930, and played on the Giants’ 1933 world championship team. Fitz pitched one game in the 1933 World Series and two contests of the 1936 Series. After being traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1937, Fitzsimmons continued to play productively, and his 16-2 record in 1940 again led the league in winning percentage. Fred’s greatest– and most painful– moment on the mound came in Game 3 of the 1941 World Series. Fitzsimmons was pitching masterfully and beating the Yankees when a line drive hit him just below the knee, knocking him out of the game.
Fitzsimmons finished his 19-year career in 1943 with a record of 217-146. He then managed the Philadelphia Phillies from July 1943 until June 1945. Fitz later coached for the Braves, Giants, Cubs, Athletics, and several minor league teams.
Fred’s decades in major league baseball brought him into contact with many of the game’s luminaries, such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Terry, Leo Durocher, and Willie Mays. The greatest moment of baseball history that Fitzsimmons witnessed came in 1951 when he was coaching first base for the Giants and Bobby Thomson hit the “shot heard ’round the world” that won the league pennant for New York.
Fred died in 1979 and is buried in Colton, California.
Playing in an era when nearly everyone was a baseball fan, Freddie Fitzsimmons was a household name across the country, and because his hometown was often mentioned in articles about his pitching exploits, he put Mishawaka on the nation’s sports map.
Fitz was inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992. Mishawaka High School’s varsity baseball field was named in his honor in 2009.
By Pete DeKever, Museum Advisory Board Member