Scott Simon on baseball and the power of art


“The Dugout” by Norman Rockwell (1948). 

Brooklyn Museum; Copyright 1948 SEPS: Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis

Baseball’s defending world champions have no greater fan than our Contributor Scott Simon of NPR, author of the new book “My Cubs: A Love Story”: 

As it appeared on newsstands on September 4, 1948. Saturday Evening Post

My Uncle Charlie is at the center of a great American painting. And he hated it.

“The Dugout,” by Norman Rockwell, was the September 4, 1948 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Charlie Grimm, the old Chicago Cubs manager, who was married to my Auntie Marian, is the forlorn face in the middle of the bench. 

Charlie thought that Rockwell had made him look like a basset hound.

Rockwell started sketching during a double-header between the Cubs and the Boston Braves in May 1948. The Cubs lost both games and would finish last in the National League. (They usually did.) 

The downcast batboy was a Boston kid who had to be cajoled into wearing a Cubs jersey -- for art’s sake. 

The painting plays in our imagination. Who knows what Cubbie clumsiness has made Uncle Charlie and his boys grimace? Even the towels and glove on the dugout wall seem to droop.

“The Dugout” shows the power of art. Rockwell’s painting made the Cubs’ image as loveable losers into an icon. And in the decades that followed, they played like their painting. So when a black cat strolled by the Cubs dugout, or a fan reached for a foul over a Cubs fielder, it looked like whatever farce that made Uncle Charlie wince had come back to life. 

It was the Cubs’ image that stuck -- until last year, when they won the World Series for the first time in 108 years

Blue Rider Press

Now I’m overjoyed to see the Cubs win. But I also worry a little if those of us who are fans will be as loyal to a team that doesn’t seem to need our love as much, now that they’re national darlings.

Uncle Charlie, by the way, was actually a dapper guy -- no basset hound! -- who finally made his peace with Rockwell’s painting.

Charlie Grimm didn’t make it to the Hall of Fame; but he knew that Rockwell’s portrait put him into history. 

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