Scalpers' revenge: Have the state set Da Boss' ticket prices


August 01, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

This is what the Orioles should do with the grand or so they drop each game day to pay undercover cops to catch ticket scalpers: Contribute it to a fund for the rehabilitation of drug addicts. Or, if the city wants to assign cops to an additional detail, let them use the Orioles' money to create a few more foot patrols in city neighborhoods. It would be a modest effort, but at least it would combine the Orioles' money and the city's manpower for the greater good. Instead, the city is doing little more than indulging a millionaire's whim.

The Orioles are attacking ticket scalpers on several fronts this year. They have a city ordinance to back them up, a City Council willing to shine Peter Angelos' shoes and cops who love a chance to earn a little extra income, especially if they can make fast and easy arrests that impress Da Boss (and I don't mean the mayor).

The law against ticket scalping could be ignored, of course. Who gets hurt by the practice? A Georgetown yuppie desperate for tickets and willing to pay over the top? Hey, I'm crying about it. Me, I try to avoid scalpers or the need for one. But I don't fault them for trying to make a little here and there. I figure it's your basic supply-and-demand dynamic at work in the free enterprise system. In America, this is supposed to be a good thing, the natural order.

But the way the city kowtows to the Orioles on this issue -- the City Council makes the anti-scalping ordinance tougher, the Police Department assigns plainclothes cops to patrol -- you'd think this sports franchise was a public utility. The way Angelos insists on government regulation of ticket sales -- even when it should be beyond his legitimate control -- you'd think he'd be willing to have his ticket prices set by, say, the Public Service Commission. Or maybe he'd be willing to have the city Board of Estimates restrict the number of season tickets he can sell so there would be more single tickets available for Average Joe. Maybe Angelos would let the city set the rates, too.

But this is a privately owned sports franchise, not the public water works. Angelos answers to no one. He could jack up ticket prices, take a lot of heat for it and still sell the place out. As wealthy as he is, he nonetheless sees scalpers, hears what they're asking, and feels he has lost control.

And so we have a crackdown to make Da Boss feel in control again. The Orioles, bless 'em, are paying for a four-man undercover detail specifically to nail ticket scalpers. The cost to the team is from $700 to $1,000 a night.

Since the crackdown started, I've been getting calls from its victims. The accused scalpers are too humiliated to be identified in the newspaper, but they're all outraged. Today's scalping case -- another study in public nonsense -- is that of a self-employed electronics specialist named Jeff.

His daughter purchased three tickets to a July game through Ticketmaster. The tickets were worth $8 each, but the service charge for the computerized sale brought the actual cost of each ticket to about $10.

The day of the game arrived. Jeff couldn't go. Nor could his wife. Nor could his daughter. He tried to give the tickets away. "It seemed everyone I wanted to give them to had other plans," he said. "So, like a fool, I drove down there [Oriole Park] to sell them."

Someone asked how much he wanted. Jeff said $10 each. Jeff got arrested. "Arrested," he says, "by two of the nastiest cops you'd ever want to meet, jacking my arms in the air, tightening those things around my wrists. They hurt my arms. It was very humiliating. I tried to explain about the price, and this cop shouts in my face, 'You're making a profit! I don't care if it's 10 cents!' "

Gee. You suppose cops get that passionate about busting drug dealers?

"They took me down to the [Central District] lockup," Jeff says. "I was there till 4:30 in the morning. I took a cab to where I had left my car and it had been towed. It cost me $145 to get my car back. It cost me $25 in cab fare to get home. My wife was up waiting for me, very upset. She didn't know where I was until I got to call her, like 11 o'clock. I'm facing a $250 fine." Actually, he's lucky there. In June, the City Council, so eager to please Peter Angelos, passed a bill increasing future fines to a maximum of $1,000.

"I feel so bad about the Orioles now," Jeff says. "I hope there is a baseball strike. I hope the Orioles finish last." I join him in outrage over the scalping crackdown, but I don't go that far with it. Still, what a bunch of nonsense.

A scoop of rudeness

What's with all the grumpy people serving ice cream? I've run into a streak of them -- behind counters in Highlandtown, Towson, even in Brunswick, Frederick County.

You'd think people who dish out everyone's favorite treat might feel good about themselves, might at least smile some phony-Kathy-Lee-Gifford smile and say, "What'll ya have?" Instead, they act as if they work for the MVA.

I've been observing this for a while and wondering about it, and finally come up with a theory: These scoop-jockeys in ice cream parlors are sick and tired of smelling the sugary air, sick of happy people sauntering in -- people who have the day off, people in love, people spending quality time with their families -- and taking for-EVER to make up their minds about flavors of overpriced ice cream, which the cheap management that pays lousy wages won't allow workers to eat free! And their hands are always sticky. I guess I'd feel the same way.

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