All week the kid's name had been in the papers, but not even Centerfielder was prepared. Centerfielder has spent much of his life looking out a big, dusty window of a bar next to Madison Square Garden and sitting across the street in the lobby of a hotel where he does not live. He has his name because he is never seen without an old, fraying Yankee cap pulled down to his ears, and because he fields anything left on the bar between noon and midnight; he has a great pair of hands. "I know the kid is unusual," he says, "because everybody says he is, and also because anything from Philadelphia has got to be unusual."
What Centerfielder saw that morning in the hotel lobby was "Gypsy Joe" Harris of Philadelphia (see cover), a welterweight who, right with Muhammad Ali, is the most creative and exciting fighter since Sugar Ray Robinson. Now here comes Gypsy out of the elevator and into the lobby. Gypsy's girl is waiting, Centerfielder is in his usual position, next to a gentleman who will soon be discarding his morning paper, and there are a few Negroes. All turn and look at Gypsy, who is standing in the middle of the lobby and looking like one of those people you see in the sallow light of a Greyhound bus station just before day breaks.
Moving from his feet to his head, he is wearing big, fancy boots, blue Wrangler pants, a wide belt with cows on it, a red cowboy shirt and a white cowboy hat that rests on his head like a hill of whipped cream. He stands there for a long moment, shoves the hat to the back of his head and then fingers the strand of straw dangling from his mouth. On this day, you see, Gypsy really thinks he is a cowboy. Nobody can understand this, because the only place west Gypsy had been was West Philadelphia, and if he had ever yearned for wide-open space it was at night in a bedroom with three other kids in it.
"Well," said a Negro trainer, staring at Gypsy, "I always know he different, but he the first black boy I ever see who think he's Buck Jones."
"Oh, he's just a poor, lonesome southern boy," thought another man, waiting to get his autograph. "Some red-necked cracker hit him alongside his head one day and he'll wake up and know he ain't no Gary Cooper."
"Gypsy, you sweet," said his girl, "but you sure are the funniest lookin' cowboy I ever did see."
Gypsy Joe—so named because he used to wear bells on his shoes and because of his nomadic nature—may be an aberration as a cowboy, but he is also, to be certain, a quite preposterous figure as a fighter. He is 5'5" tall, has bowed legs, a protruding stomach and his head is a croquet ball that has been whacked too many times over a cobblestone street. "I keep it shaved," he says, "because when it's greased up the punches just slide off, and it's part of my cool anyway. If somebody else had a shaved head, I'd do something else, like letting my hair grow down the middle and keeping it shaved on both sides." He strives, obviously, to be unique, but he does not have to.
Even Gypsy's entrance before a fight is hardly conventional. He is, because he is so small, difficult to locate during his parade to the ring. All one ever sees are the two whalelike manager-trainers Willie Reddish and Yancey Durham, both of whom wear red-and-black smoking jackets and, smiling and waving, look like they are strolling leisurely out of a Harlem men's club. When Gypsy is fighting away from Philadelphia, the crowd roars in disbelief as he enters the ring. "I always love that first roar," he says. "Shows they 'preciate my threads."
The threads consist of a black hood over his head, a three-quarter length, double-breasted, red-satin robe with a black bow on the back and red shoes. Gypsy waits for the first roar to fade and, then, with the timing of a stripper, he sheds his robe and displays the rest of his ensemble: red-satin trunks with two black buttons on each side. "Sweeter than wine," they scream in Philadelphia. "You sweeter than wine, Joe."
"Jos� Stable once knocked three of the buttons off my trunks," says Gypsy, indicating his concern for his appearance, "and I get so mad, I rip off the fourth button myself."