THIS IS MONEY time for Jon Wells. The renegade baseball-program publisher is padding back and forth along busy Occidental Avenue South, the gauntlet of lowball ticket, music, and hot dog hawkers across from Safeco Field. It's a few hours before game time, when the crowd streams into the Mariners' park. He checks to see if vendors of his $3 "books" have enough change and are positioned at the tidal crest of foot traffic.
A youthful 40, Wells is wearing a hooded blue Mariners sweatshirt. But he's not part of the Mariners' business team. He's the enemy editor and publisher of The Grand Salami, a slick, irreverent M's program and fan mag that is sold on the streets. His players compete with the team's own program sellers inside, and his writers— including several from KJR sports radio and ESPN.com—sometimes take a more critical view than the fawning in-house program. In the current April issue, Wells praises the club's general manager, Pat Gillick, but remembers former GM Woody Woodward for his "many foolish trades, ill-advised free-agent signings, and the personality of a doorknob".
It's been a cool but mostly gentlemanly relationship for most of Salami's seven years, in part because the Mariners can't stop Wells and other free enterprisers from selling competing merchandise on public sidewalks. But Wells says the moderate tone has changed. He's a media guy without media credentials this season, shut out, he says, by the Mariners.
"I asked them for press credentials again this year, and suddenly they're saying no way," says Wells. "I need them to follow the game and to do interviews, as I've always done. They said no, without an explanation."
Why? "Well, we know they don't like where we sell our magazines, they sometimes don't like our [editorial] angles, although, you know, these days there's really not that much to complain about with the Mariners.
"We're certainly not nitpicking a team that won 116 games last year. It's not like when they had losing seasons and a general manager that was an idiot.
"But maybe that's it—they're so successful now, they don't have to be civil anymore."
As Wells is talking, his friend Irwin the Scalper tunes in. Irwin, with a stubble beard and wearing a rain slicker, is holding a fistful of tickets he offers to passersby. For the moment, he is selling them at face value, $40 terrace seats on Opening Day.
"I'm going to give you the inside scoop on something else the Mariners are doing this year," says Irwin, who first pauses to answer his cell phone. "They're now scalping their own tickets on their Web site."
He's not referring just to the Mariners allowing season-ticket holders to resell tickets online at $100 or more over face value, as they began doing last year, he says.
Though it's illegal to sell tickets above face value in Seattle, the M's think they've skirted the law by allowing supposedly only out-of-town season-ticket holders to sell at scalper prices online; the team then takes a 15 percent cut from the seller and 10 percent from the buyer. With the transactions also handled by an out-of-state cyberfirm, LiquidSeats of San Francisco, the M's say their hands are clean.
"Go on their Web site today," says Irwin. "Look at, say, resale tickets for sections 140, 141," seating along third base. "First five rows, $100 to $150 for a $40 seat. You don't see who is selling those seats—they don't tell you.
"It looks like a season-ticket holder's seats. But those are tickets the Mariners still own. They're unsold charter seats. They may deny it, but I know it for a fact.
"Aren't they the Baseball Club of Seattle? Their offices are right over there," he says, pointing at Safeco Field. "City laws don't apply in the stadium?"
(The Mariners did not respond to queries for comment.)
"I can't see how that's any different from what we do," Irwin says, "usually at cheaper prices. I mean, last year the Mariners called us a bunch of lowlifes out here. Welcome to the club."
Wells, rocking on his heels, listens patiently to Irwin.
"This is the kind of thing I'm saying," he explains. "The Mariners have everything going for them—great team, stadium, and fans—and they're doing this kind of stuff. Man, it's like Woody is back!"