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Orioles are big winners, but scalper loses profit

Eddie from South Baltimore, the semiwell-known bookmaker, parked his ancient Cadillac that seems constantly on the brink of cardiac arrest, stepped onto the parking lot outside Lexington Market and inhaled the most fragrant smell in the world, which is that of brand new money.

It was 11 o'clock Tuesday morning, and already this was the closest parking space he could find, legal or otherwise, to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where Baltimore was meeting Cleveland in the baseball playoffs a full two hours away.

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Eddie sensed anxiety in the air, and it was good. If the lots and garages were filled this early, it meant people were ravenous for tickets. Eddie had some. He imagined great profits. He needed them, having gradually seen his grand profession, his numbers business, wiped out by the state's lottery and having reached the point in his life where money is so tight that Eddie crosses himself whenever he spends any.

Never mind the thrill of home runs; for Eddie, this was a day at the office. Never mind the grand legacy of the game; for Eddie and for all those who work along the fringes of baseball, the playoffs are their little shot at grabbing some of the table scraps that baseball can't quite stuff into its bulging pockets.

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"Need tickets?" said a guy on Eutaw Street whose eyes were hidden behind sunglasses.

"Need 'em?" said Eddie. "No, I got 'em. You need 'em?"

"How much you want for 'em?" the guy said. He glanced over his shoulder, which is the nervous twitch of an entire culture of ticket scalpers at Orioles games. If the guy already had tickets, but still wanted more, clearly there was much money to be made.

"Fifty," said Eddie. The tickets were worth half that.

"Apiece?" the guy asked.

"Yeah, apiece. This is the playoffs."

The guy turned his head north, toward Lexington Market, signaling the end of the discussion. Eddie resumed walking south on Eutaw until he reached Pratt. The clock said 11: 20. Now Eddie saw the various utility players of baseball -- those on the street selling Brady Anderson posters, Cal Ripken photos, those selling pistachio nuts and balloons -- eager to snatch their tiny pieces of baseball's overflow.

"It's too early," Eddie said now. He glanced around. "You have to let people's edginess grow."

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He made his way to the Orioles scalp-free zone, where the buying and selling of tickets is conducted legally, but without profit margin. All sales are face value, all carefully monitored by uniformed ballpark personnel and police. Eddie wanted no part of this, except to gauge the movement of money, the way investors phone their brokers to monitor AT&T;'s movement.

"Where's the line for selling?" he asked a uniformed woman at a wooden table.

"Over there," the woman said. She pointed to a gathering of about 20 people, all hoping to unburden themselves of extra tickets.

"And where's the line for buying?" Eddie asked.

"There is none," the woman said.

This was a bulletin from hell. All sellers, no buyers. Where was the playoff fever? Where was people's sense of marvelous baseball tradition? Where was that glorious intersection where human desperation meets rampant greed?

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Now Eddie strolled east, toward the Babe Ruth statue, pondering the unfairness of life. The ballplayers make their millions, and the post-season play brings quick thousands more. The ball clubs do their own cashing in. The baseball money is so abundant that here was this craziness surrounding Roberto Alomar, who attempts to mollify an umpire he has insulted by pledging $50,000 to Johns Hopkins Hospital, which in another circumstance would cause people to do handstands, and the umpires are still saying it's not worth a spit.

And here was Eddie, with four $25 tickets to make his little killing, only nothing was happening. An offer came: $60 total. "For the playoffs?" Now another offer: $75 for the four. Eddie thought back to the previous day, where the line for remaining tickets was long and then everything was gone. Where was the desperation today?

"What you got?"

The voice came from a young guy in sneakers. Eddie looked beyond the voice, to a sea of blue in the street -- 10 city police, maybe 15, maybe more. They were here for crowd control. They were here to dampen any spirit of ticket inflating.

"I got four $25 tickets," says Eddie into his shirt.

"Give you $80 for the four of 'em," the voice says.

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It is almost game time. The desperation Eddie was seeking is here, all right, only it's his own. He takes the $80: a net loss of $20. He goes home to South Baltimore, and in the late afternoon comes a telephone call from a friend with joy in his voice. Did you hear? the friend asks. The Orioles won big. Bonilla went long with the bases loaded.

On the telephone, Eddie from South Baltimore does his own calculating: He lost $20 on the first day of the playoffs. This is his business, as much as any Oriole's. Some call this winning, but not Eddie.

Pub Date: 10/03/96


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