Friday, December 4, 2009

Rockwell and the Cubs

It's not baseball cards today, but it is definitely the Cubs

I've got a copy of this hanging in my office

This classic Norman Rockwell was originally painted in 1948. Only three years after winning the pennant, the Cubs had become the face of losers.

Recently, a study of the final portrait was sold for $662,500. The Chicago Tribune ran an article yesterday about the details of the painting.

I've got some of the story below. Here is the entire article.

"The Dugout" debuted on a 1948 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. The batboy was a Massachusetts native named Frank McNulty. The Cubs were the visiting team; they were playing the now-defunct Boston Braves at Braves Field on the day the image was staged and photographed. It was painted later by Rockwell at his home in Vermont. The image had been arranged before a Sunday doubleheader. Most of the jeering crowd behind McNulty was chosen by Rockwell from the actual crowd; Rockwell himself can be seen in the image -- he's the head in the upper left corner.

As for the Cubs: The manager slouching in his seat is Charlie Grimm, the player to his left is pitcher Bob Rush, the player to his right is catcher Al Walker, and the player standing is All-Star pitcher Johnny Schmitz.

McNulty, the batboy, actually had no allegiance to the Cubs. He served as a batboy for every team that visited Braves Field. Indeed, according to a spokesman at Christie's, the batboy in the study that sold Wednesday appears "a bit more wide-eyed and excited" than in the final painting. This is because he was excited: He was going to be on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, McNulty himself said Wednesday.

He is 78 now.

McNulty, who would later serve as president of Parade magazine (but is now retired), only calmed down after Rockwell, who was looking for an expression of unfathomable sadness, asked the then-17-year-old to imagine his dog had just died.

"I was a Braves fan," McNulty said, "and the Cubs were just becoming known for huge losers. So you can't lay that guilt trip on me! But I did always wonder why (the Cubs) agreed to it. You would think that the players, if not the management, wouldn't think highly of the idea."

Yes, the Cubs agreed to be portrayed on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post as losers. They even posed before a single pitch had been thrown that day. According to a 1972 letter from Saturday Evening Post art director Kenneth Stuart to the Brooklyn Museum, Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley himself agreed to the painting -- though, later, an editor's note in the Post explained that "the Cubs' high command" were a bit concerned at first.

Later that day, after the portrait was shot, the Cubs lost both games of the doubleheader, and Walker, the catcher in the picture, got plunked in the head by a fastball. By October (the picture was staged in late May) the Cubs had the worst record in the National League.

The day the magazine appeared (Sept. 4, 1948), the Cubs lost 6-0 to the Brooklyn Dodgers. The losing pitcher? Johnny Schmitz, who, again, stands to the right of the batboy in the painting. Before the cover appeared, he had given up only seven runs to the Dodgers in 47 previous innings. The day the cover hit newsstands, he gave up five in three innings. It's probably just a coincidence.

1 comment:

  1. If that was in my office, I'd probably stare at it all day. It's magnificent.