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The tall, lasting legacy of Frank Sullivan

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The late Frank Sullivan left a legacy in Boston, both as a pitcher, and a stand-in for one of the game's all-time greats.

The legacy of Frank Sullivan stands tall in Red Sox history, both literally and figuratively. Sullivan stood at 6-foot-6 during his playing days with the Sox. He compiled a nice major league career, making the All-Star team in back-to-back seasons in 1955 and 1956 in addition to four seasons above the 4.0 WAR mark from 1954-57, even if the stat didn't exist at the time. Sullivan's standing on the team is reflected in his three Opening Day starts.

These accomplishments earned Sullivan the moniker of the "Boston Skyscraper" and an election to the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2008. Sullivan's greatest impact on the culture and lore of the team, however, might be his depiction as one of the models for Normal Rockwell's magazine cover, "The Rookie" for the Saturday Evening Post in 1957.

Red Sox team historian Gordon Edes did a great write-up on his blog about how the cover came to be and how Sullivan ended up as one of the models for Rockwell.

On an off-day the previous August, the club had asked Sullivan and teammates Jackie Jensen and Sammy White, Sullivan’s roommate and close friend, to drive to Stockbridge, Mass., in the western part of the state.

"Jackie drove both ways, it took about three hours on both ends because there was no turnpike," Sullivan told writer Brian Sullivan in a story published by the Berkshire Eagle in 2014. "Sammy and I both sat in the back seat and we bugged Jackie the entire way about the fact we had no beer for the ride. To this day I have no idea how the three of us were selected. In those days you just did what the organization told you to do.’’

Sullivan thought he was just taking part in a photo shoot.

"When we got there we were greeted warmly by a small, slim man, whose name meant nothing to me,’’ he told his biographer and friend, Herb Crehan. "He posed us and took a number of pictures, explaining that the background would be the locker room we used in Sarasota, Florida, for spring training.

While Rockwell painted five Red Sox players, including Ted Williams, Sullivan posed as the Red Sox legend's body double for Rockwell with the artistic legend painting on Williams' face. After the Boston Museum of Fine Arts displayed the original painting in 2005, the painting that depicted Sullivan and his teammates welcoming a rookie sold for $22.5 million, nearly $22 million more than what it sold for in 1986 at $600,000.

"I guess as long as that painting is around,’’ Sullivan told Brian Sullivan in the Berkshire Eagle in 2014, "Frank Sullivan will never die. I don’t have an ego that needs that kind of support, but I appreciate the publicity that’s come with it."

In 1960, Sullivan was traded to the Phillies for an even taller pitcher, 6-foot-9 Gene Conley in what many deem the tallest trade in major league history. Conley even played for the Boston Celtics. While many players find out about transactions from Twitter today, Sullivan found out from a different source.

"The Red Sox sent me a telegram, ‘You have been traded to the Phillies, good luck.’ " Sullivan told SABR. "I remember saying to the telephone operator who read it to me, ‘Honest?’ I was destroyed. I talked to George Page (who owned the Colonial Country Club in Lynnfield, Massachusetts), whom I considered my second father, and he advised me to tell the Phillies that I wasn’t sure I wanted to play anymore because I could make more money working for George."

Sullivan looked back fondly at his year playing for the Red Sox, telling SABR. "Those were wonderful years. I loved that city and the fans were great. I got to play for eight years with Ted Williams, and watch the greatest hitter ply his craft. He could tell you if he hit one seam, or two seams, of a ball that was coming at him at 100 miles per hour."

After his playing career, Sullivan spent the last 50 years of his life in Hawaii while working at golf courses, last visiting Fenway Park in 2014.

"Shortly after we got here, Sam and I put on a clinic for a bunch of little leaguers," Sullivan told SABR. "I was throwing to Sam behind the plate, and we were really humming. When I walked off the field, this little kid said, ‘Who do you play for?’ I said proudly, ‘I played for the Red Sox.’ He looked me over and replied, ‘So do I.’ I knew at that moment that I was a long way from Boston. It was very humbling."