Redbirds Ripoff: The World's Most Expensive Garage Sale

Editorial written by James Baughn on Sunday, November 27, 2005

from the day-after-black-friday dept.

ST. LOUIS -- Nobody has ever found a goose that can lay golden eggs or a machine that can turn straw into gold. However, Bill DeWitt, Chairman of the St. Louis Cardinals, has found something almost as good: a way to turn rubble into millions of dollars.

The Cardinals have long been innovators in finding new ways to separate money from their loyal fans. But "Fredbird's Garage Sale", held Nov. 26-27 at the convention center, sets a new low in team history.

The event was billed as a way for ordinary fans to get a crack at buying souvenirs from Old Busch Stadium. The name "garage sale" implied that bargains would be available.

Pardon me while I vomit. Bargains? Cardinals? Those two words haven't appeared in the same sentence in the last 50 years. The escalating prices for tickets, food, drinks, parking, and merchandise have reached a point where many families practically need to apply for a small loan just to attend a single game.

The price of beer at Busch Stadium is terrifying enough. But the prices at the "Garage Sale" were enough to give anybody a heart attack.

$550 for a beat-up metal sign that said "Cardinals"?

$250 for a small seating section sign?

$300 for a random framed photo not signed by anybody?

$1000 for a random photo that was signed?

$300 for a flag with the name of some other team?

$300 for a game-used jersey worn by an obscure rookie who only played a few games?

$750+ for a game-used jersey worn by a regular player that most people might actually recognize (maybe)?

$200 for a surplus third base that was never used?

$500 for a base that was supposedly used for a few innings?

These were the obscene prices at 9:30 AM on Saturday, thirty minutes after the sale started. It was quite obvious that the prices were jacked up each time a new item was brought out. For example, the metal signs were $300 at one point, but were quickly raised to $550. The gouging was easy to spot: One overlooked sign still had the $300 price tag. (And for all we know, the $300 tag was probably covering a $50 tag...)

When asked the price on a piece of bunting, a worker said "$150... Wait, that's $300 now." The team obviously had trouble keeping their little price-gouging racket a secret. Rumors circulated that the lucky bastards at the head of the line at 9 AM picked up items for one-tenth of the price that the team started charging just a few minutes later.

Then again, even $25 for a small sign isn't exactly a bargain. Under most circumstances, these items would be treated as construction debris and trucked to a landfill, or handed out for free. But this is Major League Baseball, the home of America's other pasttime: sleazy business practices.

The team can't ethically hide behind the excuses of "supply and demand" or "free market principles" to justify their stratospheric prices. Old Busch Stadium was filled with a nearly endless supply of potential "garage sale items", more than enough to allow every fan to get something at a fair price. It's simple economics: High demand, but with high supply, should equal reasonable prices. But not in Cardinal Nation.

Looking at the faces of the garage sale shoppers, it was obvious many were panicking as they desperately tried to find something to take home to their family that wouldn't max out their credit cards. Those fathers with young children in tow were particularly screwed.

Rich folks had no trouble plopping down $5,000 for an armload of stuff, and some did. But for everybody else -- 99% of the Cardinals fan base -- the whole thing was a ridiculous joke, made worse by the horrible organization and crowd control that caused lines to be hours longer than necessary. With so many people leaving empty-handed and royally pissed, it's a wonder the event was so peaceful.

By 11 AM, two hours after the event started, the line was still getting longer, snaking through the convention center lobby and outside for more than a block. While the crowd was immense, most of the congestion and waiting was caused by the simple fact that the "garage sale" only occupied a tiny corner of the exhibit hall. Extremely bad planning meant that many people had to wait for hours just to get inside the building, much less enter into the exhibit hall or squeeze into the sale area. And then the checkout line was at least another hour wait...

Ironically, the only good deal involving the Cardinals was at the site of the old ballpark. Construction workers were handing out pieces of Busch Stadium concrete to bystanders for free. Clearly, these freebies were not Bill DeWitt's idea. Just imagine the sheer profits that could be made if the team charged $50 -- no, make that $200 -- for a random chuck of rubble!

This was the scene at the old ballpark on Nov. 26. A construction worker was bringing out bags of rubble to bystanders in front of the fence. After leaving the garage sale empty-handed, at least it was possible to obtain some kind of authentic Busch Stadium souvenir.

A few years ago, the Cardinals demanded that the State of Missouri pay the majority of the costs for their new stadium, an unnecessary edifice that will have less seats (but more gouging opportunities) than Old Busch. Gov. Bob Holden, in a rare instance of actual leadership, put his foot down, even though the team repeatedly threatened to move out of St. Louis.

It's hard not to think that this latest round of gouging isn't a subtle way to get back at the Missourians and loyal fans who refused to allow their tax money to be used as corporate welfare to finance a new playground for millionaires. The arguments in favor of a taxpayer-funded stadium were pathetic. How the hell is a smaller ballpark supposed to boost tourism?

In another thirty-five years, if history is any indication, the team will start pushing to replace the dilapidated, outdated Busch Stadium 3.0 with a new arena built by billionaires, for billionaires. When the team starts begging for tax money and threatening to move, Missourians need to play hardball and respond in no uncertain terms: "Don't let the Arch hit you on the way out!"