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One lady guitar player from Mexico, a trickle of fans and possibly some of the players' close relatives watched the U.S. Davis Cup team beat Mexico at Rye, N.Y. a couple of weeks ago. A 400-seat temporary grandstand at the Westchester Country Club was more than ample for this little knot of customers. Considering that it was the finals of the American Zone eliminations, this was a pretty paltry turnout for one of the world's largest metropolitan areas, even allowing that the tennis was not quite top-grade.
Maybe the fathers of the staid U.S. Lawn Tennis Association should take a look at major league baseball. When interest died out in the old, empty ball parks of the East, the majors started moving into unjaded western cities and found a whole new batch of wildly enthusiastic supporters.
In southern California for several decades and, more recently, in Texas, tennis interest has been high. In Dallas, for instance, 2,000 fans watched four days of tennis in the Dallas Country Club Invitational tournament; Houston has pulled in over 5,000 at its River Oaks tournament. It seems to be time for the USLTA to examine these figures and start playing some of its big events—not only the Davis Cup but also the Nationals—somewhere west or south of Boston, New York and Philadelphia. After all, golf has been doing just that for years with happy results, and the old argument about staging these matches on grass is as outdated as "twenty-three skidoo."
The prospect of an American Zone Davis Cup final—to say nothing of a national championship—would no doubt bulge the seams of a man-sized stadium in Houston, Dallas or Los Angeles. With lady guitar players there is no telling where the enthusiasm might soar. So, why not?
$833 A POUND
First baseman Steve Bilko of the Los Angeles Angels and Sergeant Ernie Bilko, USA (TV), have little in common aside from the fact that both are brand-new celebrities. Sergeant Bilko is played by a feverish comic named Phil Silvers. First Baseman Bilko is played by a lethargic 27-year-old named Steve Thomas Bilko.
The 240-pound Steve, now in his second year with the Angels, is batting .370, threatening the Pacific Coast League record of 60 home runs in a season, and has just had the glamorous price tag of $200,000 pinned on him by Angel President John Holland. That rates as a new high for minor league beef on the spike, amounting, as it does, to $833 a pound. To those who remember Steve's three futile attempts to stick with the majors (twice with the Cardinals and once with the Cubs) all this may come as quite a surprise.
But this is a new Steve—more relaxed, more obese and completely resigned to the fickleness of fate. "When I hit 'em I hit 'em," he grunts, "and when I miss 'em I miss 'em. I usually strike out a hundred times a year and this year should be no exception." He credits the Angels' heavy schedule of daytime games with part of his success, explaining: "I think the ball goes farther in daylight." The proof: as of last Sunday he had already driven 47 homers out of Coast League parks with 37 games still to play. They were still whooping it up in the ball park the other day after the game in which Bilko hit Homer No. 46. Then somebody noticed that the hero of the hour was no longer around. The mighty muscle man had rushed home, having volunteered to baby-sit his three children while Mrs. Bilko had a night out.
With the irrepressible Silvers bouncing across the nation's TV screens every week, it was inevitable that Steve Bilko would acquire the nickname Sarge. There are a great many Angel fans who will tell you that before the current season is finished they'll be calling that TV character Steve.