When Sherman “Scotty” Safford walked into the Pittsfield High School cafeteria in 1956, he spotted a mysterious man sitting at a nearby table. “He had a Bing Crosby-type pipe, very wavy hair, and a receding chin,” recalls Scotty, now 75. “I knew he was somebody special, because nobody smoked in that place.”
The mystery man was Norman Rockwell, and he came to Pittsfield High in search of a model for a baseball spring training painting in the works. “I was a tall, gangly string bean of a kid,” says Scotty. “At 6-foot-4, I towered over everybody else, and obviously this caught his eye.”
Rockwell met Scotty, shared his cover idea, and invited the athlete to pose as the talented “hayseed” who shows up on his first day in the major leagues with bat, glove, and suitcase in hand, convinced he’s there to save the team. “As a 17-year-old kid, I couldn’t have been more thrilled,” Scotty recalls.
By the time the issue hit newsstands in March 1957, Scotty was in the Army and stationed at Fort Dix. His mother called with the news, telling him to run to the post exchange and buy as many copies as he could carry.
“I went AWOL,” says Scotty, who wasn’t allowed out of the barracks without a pass. “When I came back, my company commander was there; the executive officer was there; the first sergeant was there. My sergeant was standing at the top of the stairs in front of the door and growled, ‘This better be good, mister!’ I had an armload of magazines and I handed him one and said, ‘I’m on the cover of the Post this week.’ And I walked right by him and went upstairs.”
Only later did the impact of his actions sink in.
“The next morning at zero-dark thirty, we’re standing there, and it’s pitch dark,” Scotty says. “The company commander comes up with the magazine and says, ‘Private Safford, would you sign this for me?’”
Scotty never saw Rockwell again, but The Rookie became an instant classic.
“I’ve had so much fun with this over the years,” Scotty says. “It means so much to me, probably more so as time goes on because I realize how special it was.”