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Game Called Because of Rain or Three Umpires by Norman Rockwell

Game Called Because of Rain by Norman Rockwell
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April 23, 1949 Issue of The Saturday Evening Post

Game Called Because of Rain, one Norman Rockwell baseball painting of many, appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post published April 23, 1949. This is a timeless favorite of Rockwell collectors and baseball fans alike, a true classic for the ages.

A painting this popular has many different alternate names. This is also called The Three Umpires, Tough Call and Bottom of the Sixth.

This painting was Rockwell's second cover for The Post in 1949. In 1949, there were five Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post covers published.

This was also the 259th illustration Rockwell painted for cover of the Post. Rockwell's career with the Post spanned 47 years, from his first cover illustration, Boy With Baby Carriage in 1916 to his last, Portrait of John F. Kennedy, in 1963.

This illustration has been reproduced in ten Rockwell commentary books:

  • on page 35 of The Norman Rockwell Album,
  • as illustration 297 of Norman Rockwell's America by Christopher Finch,
  • on page 343 of Norman Rockwell's autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator,
  • on page 105 of The Faith of America by Fred Bauer ,
  • on page 16 of Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People by Maureen Hart Hennessey and Anne Knutson,
  • on page 64 of Norman Rockwell: America's Most Beloved Painter by Karal Ann Marling,
  • on pages 365 and 383 of Norman Rockwell 332 Magazine Covers by Christopher Finch,
  • as illustration 452a of Norman Rockwell: Artist and Illustrator by Thomas Buechner,
  • on page 99 of Norman Rockwell: A Sixty Year Retrospective by Thomas Buechner and
  • on page 181 of Norman Rockwell, A Definitive Catalogue by Laurie Norton Moffatt.

I have seen pristine original copies of this cover still attached to the magazine sell for more than one hundred dollars on eBay. And to think it only cost fifteen cents originally!

Game Called Because of Rain

Giclee Prints on Archival Paper:
At Art.com

Available as Oil on Canvas:
Oil on Canvas Reproduction

The original oil on canvas painting, 43 inches by 41 inches or 109 x 104 cm, is part of the collection of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. It was donated by Rockwell and Curtis Publishing.

A pen and charcoal on posterboard study , 47 inches by 44 inches or 119.5 x 111.5 cm, is part of the collection of the National Baseball Library, also in Cooperstown, New York.

This classic Norman Rockwell painting depicts a baseball game between National League rivals the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Pittsburg Pirates.

Game Called Because of Rain was most likely painted during the winter months of 1948 and 1949. Rockwell meticulously planned each of his compositions.

At this point in his career, Norman Rockwell worked almost exclusively from photographs. No doubt then exists in my mind that this scene, real or imagined, takes place during the 1948 baseball season.

The Brooklyn Dodgers utilized three different managers in 1948. Leo Durocher was first, Ray Blades replaced Durocher for a few games and Burt Shotton finished the season.

Shotten led the Dodgers to the National League pennant in 1947. He is credited with being the last major league manager to wear regular street clothes during games, instead of donning a uniform matching the rest of the team. The Dodger manager's sleeve can be seen in the picture and looks like a regular shirt sleeve to me.

The manager for the 1948 Pittsburgh Pirates was Billy Meyer. He doesn't look very happy in this painting.

The starting outfielders for the 1948 Pirates, seen in the far background, were Johnny Hopp, Ralph Kiner, and Fred E. "Dixie" Walker.

Hopp was an All-Star in 1946.

Kiner had fifty-plus homers in 1947 and 1949.

Walker led the 1948 team, batting .318 for the season.

The Dodgers (84-70) finished the 1948 season just one game ahead of Pittsburgh (83-71). Thisgame, played at Ebbetts Field was apparently a very important game that season. Brooklyn won the National League pennant that year, but were beaten by the Yankees in the Wold Series.

One of our readers had this to add (see page link at bottom):

The Brooklyn player is coach Clyde Sukeforth.
Bob McGee,
The Greatest Ballpark Ever: Ebbets Field and the Story of the Brooklyn Dodgers

The Three Umpires

The three central characters in the painting are the three umpires. Their names are Larry Goetz, Lou Jorda and John "Beans" Reardon.

Reardon, the head umpire for this game, reportedly refused to advise Rockwell about the weather or the game.

Tough Call

The Dodgers, behind one run, are counting on the rain to end. If the rain continues and the ump calls the game, the Pirates will win. If the rain stops, the Dodgers will at least have a chance to score and win.

A recent comment by one of our readers prompted me to further research the meaning and indeed the humor in this painting. I have found at least three different interpretations of the events depicted.

The first interpretation is from Norman Rockwell and The Saturday Evening Post by Dr. Donald R. Stoltz and Marshall L. Stoltz , Volume III (The Later Years 1943-1971). Here is the relevant part of what the Stoltz brothers, experts on Norman Rockwell, had to say about The Three Umpires:

In this 1949 baseball cover, Norman chose to bypass the excitement of the game itself and instead depicted that moment at which the ball game is brought to an earlyconclusion by foul weather. The Brooklyn manager, pointing to the lowering sky, is delighted by the fact that his opponents, the Pittsburgh Pirates, are ahead by one run, because the score will not become official unless Brooklyn gets another oppurtunity to bat in the bottom half of the inning. The Pittsburgh players are already out on the field waiting for the Dodger batters to come to the plate. The rain is on the side of the Dodgers. From our ground level view, we look up at the three umpires standing tall and straight as buildings, and at the same time we see the sky from which the rain is beginning to fall.

So the Stoltz brothers interpret the painting to mean that the Brooklyn manager, Clyde Sukeforth, is happy for the rain because foul weather will erase his teams (apparently) impending loss to division rivals Pittsburgh.

I found a nother perspective in Norman Rockwell 332 Magazine Covers by Christopher Finch on page 365. Here is what Mr. Finch has to say about the scene:

The Brooklyn manager is delighted because the rain appears to be ending, and the game will not be called —that would have given Pittsburgh a victory— and the Dodger's cleanup batter is at the plate.

So Christopher Finch sees that the Dodgers manager thinks the rain is ending and play will continue, giving Brooklyn a shot at tieing or winning the game.

I found still another scenario at the website of the Norman Rockwell Museum of Stockbridge (nrm.org). The author is unattributed on that page, so I am unable to provide attribution here. Here is the relevant part from that page:

Despite its revisions, Tough Call was received especially well by the public. The familiar illustration featured three umpires —Larry Goetz, Beans Reardon, and Lou Jorda— assessing the weather during a Dodgers versus Pirates game. The scoreboard shows the score to be 1–0 Pittsburgh, bottom of the sixth— so if the game is called because of rain, Pittsburgh will officially win. Confused viewers have then wondered why the Pittsburgh manager seems so upset. In order to make Rockwell's intended scenario clear to readers, the Post wrote, "In the picture, Clyde Sukeforth, a Brooklyn coach, could well be saying, 'You may be all wet, but it ain't raining a drop!' The huddled Pittsburgher —Bill Meyer, Pirate manager— is doubtless retorting, 'For the love of Abner Doubleday, how can we play ball in this cloudburst?'"

This view seems most likely to me, considering Norman Rockwell's famous sense of humor.

Three Umpires - Altered?

My research to understand the possible meaning of the situation also lead me to another important point concerning The Three Umpires.

It turns out that this painting and three others submitted to the Post were altered after submission. Yes, unbelievable as it seems, the Post editor commissioned another artist, William H. Rapp, to change parts of this and three other paintings!

The main change that was made is the upper right hand corner. Rockwell painted the dark clouds from the upper left side to be extending across the entire top of the painting. Rapp also darkened the uniforms of the Pittsburgh players.

Rockwell, of course, was not happy, to say the least. He complained to Post art editor Ken Stuart that Tough Call “had the piece of sky added when I still feel it was better as I conceived and painted it.”

Finally, after having four paintings altered, Norman Rockwell sent the Post editors this message:

"This repainting of my work without my knowledge or consent has never happened to me before with the Post or any other magazine.
This is very serious to me. As you know, I am willing to make changes or have a picture rejected, but I do feel that the re-painting of a man’s work to this point is completely unethical . . .
I cannot go on painting with any strength or conviction with the threat of such changes to my work constantly hanging over my head."

The Post wisely changed its policy about altering submitted artworks. After Rockwell's notice that he was unsure whether he wanted to continue creating covers that might be repainted, smarter heads prevailed in the Post management.

In addition to Post art editor Ken Stuart's opinions, two other editors were consulted, Ben Hibbs, the editor-in-chief, and managing editor Robert Fuoss would all review the submitted painting. If changes were need or suggested, then the painting would be returned to Rockwell for any changes.

Norman Rockwell: Three Umpires

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Norman Rockwell's Game Called Because of Rain (The Three Umpires) (1949)
(Image Only) Copyright © 1949 Saturday Evening Post & Curtis Publishing Company

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Read What Other Commenters Have Said

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Tough Call: Rockwell Gets It Wrong 
In the painting, the Brooklyn Manager points to the sky with glee as the umpires feel the first raindrops fall. By the manager's expression (which is Rockwell's …

Pittsburg Outfielders Not rated yet
Two of the three Pittsburg outfielders depicted in Rockwell's illustrated cover for the April 23, 1949 Saturday Evening Post were not actually Major League …

About The Three Umpires Not rated yet
The Brooklyn player is coach Clyde Sukeforth. Bob McGee author The Greatest Ballpark Ever: Ebbets Field and the Story of the Brooklyn Dodgers

Click here to write your own.

Norman Rockwell Quotes:

I'll never have enough time to paint all the pictures I'd like to.

No man with a conscience can just bat out illustrations. He's got to put all his talent and feeling into them!

Some people have been kind enough to call me a fine artist. I've always called myself an illustrator. I'm not sure what the difference is. All I know is that whatever type of work I do, I try to give it my very best. Art has been my life.

Right from the beginning, I always strived to capture everything I saw as completely as possible.

The secret to so many artists living so long is that every painting is a new adventure. So, you see, they're always looking ahead to something new and exciting. The secret is not to look back.

I can take a lot of pats on the back. I love it when I get admiring letters from people. And, of course, I'd love it if the critics would notice me, too.

You must first spend some time getting your model to relax. Then you'll get a natural expression.

More at BrainyQuote.

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