Obnoxious Boston Fan

Norman Rockwell's Painting of Ted Williams, Sox Returns to MFA

The Rookie
"The Rookie" - Norman Rockwell [1957] - Photograph via Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Norman Rockwell's 1957 painting "The Rookie," depicts Ted Williams and several other veteran Red Sox players greeting a newbie with less-than-stellar enthusiasm during spring training in Sarasota, Fla.

It will be up for auction at Christie's in New York on May 22. If you want an up-close look at the painting before bidding, or just wanted to take advantage of one final opportunity to see it in public in Boston, it will be on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from Tuesday through Sunday.

This painting was on display at the MFA in 2005 and 2008, following Boston's past two World Series championship victories. The MFA and the Red Sox have shared space in the Fenway neighborhood since the museum opened in 1909, across from what was the Huntington Avenue Grounds. Last year, the MFA and Art Institute of Chicago waged war via Facebook by altering some of their classic paintings with a hockey touch during the Bruins-Blackhawks Stanley Cup Final.

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There's no reason to embellish this piece of Red Sox and Bay State history.

"It's a perfect painting for Boston," Museum painting curator Karen Quinn, told The OBF Blog via email Monday. "For starters, it's the Red Sox and it's painted by one of America's most popular artists. It features known players -- Ted Williams being the most famous of them now, but in 1957, Frank Sullivan, Sammy White, Jackie Jensen, and Billy Goodman were the heart of the team, like [Dustin] Pedroia, [David] Ortiz, [Jonny] Gomes, and [Mike] Napoli today. We connect to them as fans and we connect to the universal theme of the rookie himself being the new kid among the seasoned veterans."

The painting appeared on the March 2, 1957 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. In it, Williams [standing in the background with a tilted cap] looms over; White, a catcher, [lower left]; Sullivan, a pitcher, [No. 18] on the bench next to Jensen, an outfielder; and Goodman, who played primarily second and third base, at far right, trying to hold back a smirk.

"The Rookie," labeled "John J. Anonymous" by Rockwell, was actually Pittsfield, Mass., high school athlete Sherman Safford, who was asked to model for Rockwell. Not surprisingly, the only player who did not pose for the painting was Williams. Rockwell had to rely on baseball cards for the details of his face, the museum said.

Quinn said seeing the full-sized painting in person cannot be duplicated, no matter how you may view it elsewhere.

"Norman Rockwell is a fantastic painter and that does not always translate into reproduction," she said. "The vivid color and the brushstrokes - the physical surface of the painting - are often distorted or invisible. Not to mention the size of the painting - since it was painted to be a cover for The Saturday Evening Post, people often assume it is going to be that size, when in fact it is much larger [41 x 39 inches]. Careful looking in person is also rewarding because of the details that Rockwell includes that cannot be seen in the smaller images."

Sullivan wrote about the experience as model for Rockwell in 2004:

In the summer of 1956, while playing for the Red Sox, we got a rare day off, but I was told to take my uniform and go to Stockbridge, Mass., to be photographed, along with Sam White and Jackie Jensen ... We were greeted warmly by a small, slim man smoking a pipe and his name meant nothing to me [and] went over to a two-story wooden building with a studio on the second floor. There we put on our uniforms and Jensen and I were told to sit side by side on a bench with my arm on Jensen's shoulder while Jackie faked tying his shoelace. It was explained to us that the Sarasota, Fla, locker room we used in spring training would be the background. Sam was photographed separately ... It all took awhile and was a little confusing ... the following year, there we were, right in the middle of the cover for the Saturday Evening Post ... If you'll look closely, you'll see we are wearing street shoes, not spikes."

- "Diamond Days" magazine - December 2004

The painting will be on view in the MFA's Sharf Visitor Center. Admission to the museum on Wednesdays after 4 p.m. is by voluntary contribution. That means free if you're a real cheapskate, but you can always toss a couple of bucks in the donation bucket. My first trip to the MFA was as a second-grader on a field trip. And kids 17 and under are still admitted free.

The OBF Blog is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Got a news tip, want to let him know directly what you think, have a complaint or compliment about his "aggressively relevant" content or hate people who speak about themselves in the third person, hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or hit him on at his
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