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$20 million and Norman Rockwell's Piece of Red Sox History May Be Yours

Teddy Painting
[Image Courtesy Of Christie's]

Disney's new movie "Million Dollar Arm" opens on May 16. But there's one baseball "Rookie" up for grabs six days later that's already achieved legendary status. At age 57, it can be had for $20 million.

If you're lucky.

Norman Rockwell's famous and iconic baseball-themed painting "The Rookie," which features Ted Williams, graced the cover of the "Saturday Evening Post" on March 2, 1957. Former Red Sox pitcher Frank Sullivan and standout Pittsfield [Mass.] High School star athlete Sherman Safford were also immortalized together in the image.

Sullivan and Safford, however, have never met.

That will change on Monday afternoon at Fenway Park. Safford, who is portrayed as the extremely green and starry-eyed, suit-wearing rookie in Rockwell's painting, and Sullivan will be together in person for the first time.

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"The Rookie" depicts Williams, Sullivan, and several other veteran Red Sox players greeting a newbie with less-than-stellar enthusiasm during spring training in Sarasota, Fla. The painting will be up for auction at Christie's in New York on May 22.

In "The Rookie," Williams [standing in the background with a tilted cap] looms in the background. Meanwhile, catcher Sammy White can be seen at the lower left. Sullivan, No. 18, is sitting on the bench to the left of outfielder Jackie Jensen. Billy Goodman, who played primarily second and third base, at far right, trying to hold back a smirk.

Sullivan and Safford are the only two surviving subjects named in the painting.

Rockwell, who died in 1978, created many of his paintings from a series of black-and-white photographs, preferring his own imagination when it came to color and subject positioning. In this case, he visited the Red Sox spring training facility to take his reference images. In the final version, he kept some of the graffiti he saw there but omitted the cigarette butts and other debris on the locker room floor.

From the Christie's listing:

Rockwell became as ubiquitous to the American public as the images he created. "The Rookie," which depicts America's greatest pastime, painted in a patriotic palette of predominantly red, white and blue, is as quintessentially Rockwell and singularly American as the very best of his work.

When it comes to generating interest and price in a baseball painting, including Ted Williams doesn't hurt. "We hope there's a lot of Boston enthusiasm for his former teammates," said Elizabeth Beaman an American art specialist for Christie's.

The lure of the painting, beyond that for Red Sox fans who have $20 million and up to spend on decorating, goes beyond the presence of the ballplayers.

"The interesting thing about this painting is that it's both specific and very universal. Rockwell is depicting specific players and championing the underdog. That, the underdog, is a theme he's visited time and time again in his work," Beaman said.

While Rockwell painted presidential portraits, many of his subjects were unknown outside their hometowns in the Berkshires or in Vermont, where Rockwell also had a home.

Christie's does not place restrictions on what the buy can do with the painting but said many works at "these price levels are bought with the eventual intention of being donated."

"We would all love to see it publicly displayed," Beaman said. "To have it end up in Boston would be such a wonderful story but we can't predict the outcome."

John W. Henry already has the Red Sox, Fenway Park, the Boston Globe, and the Parent Company of This Blog in his portfolio. He saved $14 million on Stephen Drew and another $13 million or so when Ryan Dempster retired. Even though this piece of art is a true American treasure, it won't help shore up the Red Sox infield defensively or help Dustin Pedroia find his home run swing.

"The Rookie" [Safford] was labeled "John J. Anonymous" by Rockwell. Many residents of the Berkshires or near Rockwell's Vermont home were used as model's by Rockwell in his iconic American images. His studio and the adjoining museum in Stockbridge remains one of the Bay State's true cultural treasures.

The painting is already up for bid on Christie's site with an estimated sale price of $20-$30 million.

The Christie's site offers a detailed list of the painting's pedigree. It's officially listed as "The Rookie" [Red Sox Locker Room] and is signed 'Norman/Rockwell' [lower center]. It is oil on canvas, 41 x 39 inches and was painted in 1957. It is being offered by a "private Southwest collection."

Not surprisingly, the only player who did not pose for the painting was Williams, who was listed as "unavailable." Rockwell had to rely on baseball cards for the details of his face. Williams died in 2002.

''The more time you spent with Ted, the dumber you got," Sullivan said about Williams, when the painting was on display at Fenway Park back in 2005.

Sullivan discussed his experience as model for Rockwell in a Boston Globe story. Jensen, White, and Goodman got orders from the organization in the summer of 1956 to take their uniforms and get to Stockbridge [on a rare off day].

''We were just dumb jocks," said Sullivan, [who turned 84 this year], who has ripened nicely on the Hawaiian island of Kauai since he moved there in 1964. ''In those days, you did what you were told. We had no idea who Norman Rockwell was. He didn't mean a damned thing to me. We had no idea where Stockbridge was either. This was a hell of a drive back then -- three hours, anyway. There was no Mass. Pike or anything." Jensen pulled up with White in the car that morning. [Goodman went out another day.] The trio might as well have been traveling to South Dakota. They arrived at Stockbridge by lunch, where they were greeted by a slip of a man, endlessly polite, with a pipe stationed in his mouth. ''We still didn't have a clue why we were out there," Sullivan said. After lunch, they went to Rockwell's studio, which boasted a wooden bench. Period. The players put on their uniforms and then sat for Rockwell [and his photographer Bill Scoville], who took a lot of pictures of them. ''Mr. Rockwell had one of those old cameras with the cloth over the top," recalled Sullivan. ''He'd tell us where to look. Jackie and I were on the bench. We didn't know what the hell he's thinking. He kept telling us to keep looking up. He took separate pictures of Sammy." The ballplayers drove back to Boston and promptly forgot the whole experience. ''We didn't think a thing about it until the cover on the Saturday Evening Post came out almost a year later," said Sullivan. ''By then, we understood who Rockwell was."

Stafford was photographed separately, complete with baseball bat, glove, and suitcase, as was Goodman.

On Oct. 20 of that year, Safford, a then-17-year-old high school senior in Pittsfield whose first sport of choice was basketball, was photographed at Rockwell's Stockbridge studio. "Picked me out of a chow line," Safford told Sports Illustrated in 2012. Safford, tall and lanky, had "the expectant face that was full of promise, the look Rockwell was searching for."

According to SI:

Safford was asked to show up with a five-fingered fielder's glove, which he didn't own, and a bat. "He didn't want me to wear Levis," Safford says. "He said, 'See if you can get a seersucker coat.' And he said, 'I want a straw suitcase.' My mother found one somewhere. I think it was a picnic basket."

The painting remains on public view in the Musem of Fine Art's Sharf Visitor Center through Sunday. The painting has been popular among MFA visitors, a museum spokesperson said Friday. Among the viewers this week have included fans on their way to Fenway Park, students, and Rockwell's own son, Peter.

"Much as has been said about Norman Rockwell being American as apple pie. It's really as iconic an American 20th century work as one can find," Beaman added.

All you need is $20 million - for starters - and it's yours.

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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