Authentic Rockwell was thought to be just a print - until it sold for $1.6M

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STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — Call it a stroke of luck.

A Texas family thought they had put a Norman Rockwell print up for consignment, but an alert auction house staffer had the work examined after noticing what appeared to be brush strokes and other anomalies on the piece, according to a report in The Observer.

Turns out, the work was a rendering of the 1948 painting "Tough Call." And last week, an anonymous bidder paid $1.6 million for the painting at Heritage Auctions in Dallas.

The work is one of the most well known of Rockwell's baseball images, at least in part because the original hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The image that sold last week at auction is a rendering, or preliminary work, according to Jeremy Clowe, director of media and marketing at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.

"Often, Rockwell would create preliminary sketches, drawings or paintings of his work, just to work out the details," Clowe said. "That's what he was doing here."

The painting was created in 1948, when Rockwell was still living in Arlington, Vt., Clowe said.

The rendering is signed by Rockwell to John "Beans" Reardon, a longtime National League umpire who is the prominent umpire in the image. Reardon, who died in 1986, was a relative of the Texas family.

"Tough Call," also known as "The Three Umpires" and "Game Called At the Bottom of the Sixth," depicts three umpires looking warily up at the sky, pondering whether to call the baseball game due to rain.

The umpire clearly is meant to be Reardon because, although the game is apparently in a National League park — as shown on the scoreboard — Reardon is wearing his chest protector on the outside of his uniform, in the style of American League umpires. Reardon regularly flouted the rule requiring National League umpires to wear their chest protectors inside their uniforms. He reportedly believed the "outside style" gave him more mobility.

Reardon was born in Taunton, and his family moved to Los Angeles when he 14. His friends on the West Coast nicknamed him "Beans" in reference to his Boston-area roots.

He umpired in the National League from 1926-49. He worked five World Series and three All-Star Games. He was known as "the last of the cussin' umpires" and relished matching ballplayers' and managers' profanity with profanity of his own. He rarely ejected a player or manager, because, he once said, he enjoyed the give-and-take.

According to the Baseball Almanac, Reardon once refused a police escort following a particularly contentious minor league game, saying, "I didn't sneak in; I'm not sneaking out."

Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-770-6977. Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.


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