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THE TENNIS CROWD
I can safely predict," said James Higgins, a portly, gray-haired, middle-aged man who has been a Madison Square Garden usher for a quarter of a century, "that there will be no trouble here tonight. This is a refined crowd with a special character of its own and even if some gang of ruffians was to come through the door, which I doubt, they'd soon sense the mood of the crowd and slip into the same mood themselves. In other words, there will be no commotion or hullabaloo or Bronx cheers, as the saying goes."
Mr. Higgins was speaking of the crowd of 10,000 that turned out last Friday night to see the professional tennis debut of Tony Trabert against Pancho Gonzales, feature of a program that also included Rex Hartwig and Pancho Segura. As Mr. Higgins safely predicted, there was no trouble. The professional tennis crowd is not very different from the amateur tennis crowd. And yet it seems a wonder in Madison Square Garden, where a wide range of crowd moods reflects the swiftly changing sporting scene. This night it was tennis, tomorrow basketball, three nights later professional wrestling.
In the silence that falls over the 10,000 as the tennis play begins, the pings and pongs as ball meets racket are like rifle shots and the telegraph keys high in the press box make an ungodly clatter. The vendors move up and down the aisles silently mouthing, "Cold beer? Cold beer?" or stage whispering, "Peanuts? Popcorn?"—these being the very same hawkers who will be bellowing their lungs out to make themselves heard above the roar of the wrestling crowd a few nights hence. A father hisses to a small boy, "Cut it out, Roger!" and Roger hisses back, "He hit me first!" A blonde girl in a mink coat hurries along an aisle and remarks too loudly: "I can still smell the horse show!" There is a burst of applause, not for her, but for Tony Trabert. A white-haired woman in Seat 2, Row A, Section 108 is fast asleep.
An official runs out with a yard rule between games to check the height of the net and there is a feeble attempt to give him the bird, but the crowd catches itself in time. A ball lodges itself in the loudspeakers high over the court and the crowd seizes the chance to explode into laughter. A ball sails into the crowd and a spectator catches it, but the crowd does not cheer as it would at Ebbets Field. Once, inexplicably, there is a sudden, irrelevant, raucous yell from high in the gallery. The loge turns, looks up and frowns, and the offense is not repeated.
The swiveling head, the polite applause, the moderate cheers at set's end, these are the crowd's trademarks. "But mind you," says James Higgins, who has seen them come and go for 25 years now, "you'll find no more rabid fans in any sport. Here a few years ago didn't we have a professional tennis card on the night of a blizzard? And didn't they fill the Garden to the rafters?"
"GREATEST OF THE GREAT"
No discussion of baseball's greatest players over the past 50 years could ever get off the ground until someone had said, "I mean—next to Honus Wagner , who was the greatest?" Then the argument could really get going about Ruth and Cobb and the others.