Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Rockwell 'Post' cover that almost was

Among the 322 covers that Norman Rockwell produced for the Saturday Evening Post between 1916-63 were half a dozen baseball themes.

But the Rockwell baseball cover that "almost was" in 1952 would have no doubt been the most most popular with collectors.

As related in his column, "From the Ruhl Book," in the Jan. 23, 1952, issue of The Sporting News, Oscar Ruhl detailed the story of a cover painting that was intended for use on the Post around the time of the 1952 baseball season opener.

According to Ruhl, Rockwell had been commissioned to do a home-plate scene featuring Stan Musial, Joe Garagiola and umpire Al Barlick.

St. Louis residents Musial and Garagiola, and Barlick, who lived in Springfield, Ill., had spent three days at Sportsman's Park with the artist, posing for photos and sketches from which Rockwell would produce the final painting.

The cover was to show Barlick dusting off home plate with Musial in the batter's box and Garagiola, then a Pirates catcher, behind the plate. The problem was, to show Barlick's face in the composition, he had to assume a pose that was contrary to baseball custom.

Umpires were always taught to bend over to whisk the plate with their back turned to the pitcher's mound. If the umpire was facing the mound while he did his housekeeping, he'd be giving the fans behind home plate an up-close view (and target) of his backside.

Rockwell insisted that the cover art should show all three participants from the front, but when he submitted his preliminary painting, the Post's editors vetoed it because of its inaccuracy. There was no time to replace the painting in time for publication before the season opener (when, coincidentally, the Pirates were to meet the Cardinals in St. Louis), so what might have become a great collectible piece of baseball art never came to fruition.

As an aside, Stan Musial later did appear on a Post cover. On the May 1, 1954, issue, "The Man" is pictured signing autographs for a group of kids in a painting by John Falter, another frequent cover contributor to the popular weekly magazine.

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