It was a routine day at the ballpark for the visiting team's batboy, Frank McNulty, until famed painter Norman Rockwell summoned him to the dugout.
McNulty agreed to pose for some photographs that Rockwell later would use to create "The Dugout," an iconic image of the Chicago Cubs as losers.
That oil painting on canvas ran as the cover of the Sept. 4, 1948, issue of The Saturday Evening Post. And it has continued to crop up throughout McNulty's life.
When a study of the illustration sold Wednesday at a Christie's auction in New York City for $662,500, the
Chicago Tribune wanted to talk to the former 17-year-old who has become a part of the artist's legendary work.
"It's been amazingly interesting," McNulty said. "I don't particularly think that this is one of his better covers, but it's gotten a lot of publicity over the years."
McNulty became a full-time resident of the Lowcountry about a decade ago after retiring as president of Parade magazine. He lives on Seabrook Island, where he served two terms as mayor before stepping down last month.
His family and friends know he's the batboy in "The Dugout," but it's not widely known. He remembers a New York Times story that ran about 20 years after the illustration was published that described the batboy as a figure of Rockwell's imagination. McNulty, who read the Times, promptly wrote a letter to the story's writer saying that he was the batboy and that he was "alive and kicking."
"My family knows, and the people I'm friends with know about it," he said. "But I don't go running around telling everybody."
What many people also don't know is that McNulty wasn't a fan of the Chicago Cubs. Although the painting depicts a dejected-looking McNulty in a Cubs uniform, McNulty worked for and was a fan of the Boston Braves.
In those days, professional teams didn't take their batboys with them when they traveled, so McNulty was the batboy for all of the visiting teams. McNulty said he didn't really feel sad at the time of the photo, but he looks that way because it's what Rockwell wanted.
McNulty was 14 when he started working for the Braves. He hung up uniforms, swept floors and cleaned players' spikes. His mother worked as a telephone operator for the Internal Revenue Service in Boston, and the agency occasionally would send workers to the ballpark. Her connection helped him land the job.
He was promoted to visiting-team batboy and later to home-team batboy. He fielded bats during games, and he'd shag flies and throw balls with players during warm-ups. He knew all of them and even some of those on opposing teams, such as Jackie Robinson. McNulty described it as a boy's dream job.
He continued working for the Braves throughout high school and college. He was interested in the business side of baseball and thought about pursuing that as a career. But he enlisted in the Marines after college, and when he came back to Boston, the Braves had moved to Milwaukee. Although he ended up in another profession, his passion for baseball persisted. He's an avid Red Sox fan today.
A framed copy of that 1948 Saturday Evening Post hangs in McNulty's home. It's signed by Rockwell.