Vet execs barley knew what hit ’em

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The execs from Ogden Entertainment were sweating under the TV lights as City Council members Jim Kenney, Frank Rizzo and Joan Krajewski grilled them about the price of beer at the Vet.

Joe Sixpack almost felt sorry for them.

A few minutes earlier, I had demonstrated to a packed City Council caucus room how it was physically impossible to fill a stadium cup with 18 ounces of beer.

Behind me stood a huge enlargement of a Daily News photo that clearly shows that the stadium had advertised its beers at 18 ounces for five bucks.

Caught redhanded, the Ogden guys were now sweating bullets as Kenney and company questioned them about everything from frozen pretzels to overpriced hot dogs.

Their faces flushed, they could’ve use a tall, cold one. I’d have offered them a glass from my demonstration bottle of Bud, but after Council got done with them, they looked like they needed something stiffer.

It was not pretty, baseball fans. By the end of yesterday’s Council hearing, the Ogdenoids admitted removing the 18-ounce advertising signs after the first reports of the suds-skimming scam.

They conceded that Ogden’s el cheapo $1.25 wiener is actually intended for children. If you want an adult-sized mutt, they hit you up for a sirloin-like $3.50.

They confessed that only those privileged enough to attend games in the stadium’s high-priced private boxes are fed fresh, authentic South Philly soft pretzels. The rest of the fans get factory-made frozen wads of salted dough.

And they had to listen to Kenney tell them the worst cheesesteak in Philadelphia is the one they sell at the Vet.

At one point – I kid you not – these Ogden guys got so hot, their neck arteries bulged as they blathered about “these allegations leveled by Mr. Sixpack. ”

Afterwards, a City Hall regular congratulated me for being vindicated by the Council hearing.

Vindication – who needs that? If you’ve ever gone to a game at the Vet, you already know the score.

Following is the text of Sixpack’s testimony before City Council.

I come before you as a journalist, as a beer drinker and as a lifelong Philadelphia baseball fan.

And I come before you with a sense of outrage over the rip-off that is being perpetrated at Veterans Stadium.

Six weeks ago, armed only with this simple measuring cup, I randomly tested the draft beers sold during Phillies games. At concession booths throughout the stadium, the drafts were plainly advertised as either 18- or 12-ounce beers.

After just a few innings of testing, it became clear that these beers did not measure up. Each 18-ounce cup was consistently short by two ounces, and the 12-ounce cups were missing one or two ounces apiece.

Those two ounces may not sound like much. In fact – it’s barely a swallow.

But at a ballpark that sells three-quarters of a million cups of beer a year, it’s ounce after ounce after ounce after ounce.

At either $4 or $5 a cup, Phillies beer is the most expensive in the National League. Each ounce of beer costs the consumer up to 33 cents. A conservative estimate shows the cost of the missing beer totals perhaps one-half million dollars.

When I alerted the city Department of Licenses and Inspections to the beer racket, a team of inspectors visited the stadium and nosed around exactly one of the stadium’s 60 concession booths. But just one step ahead of the law, the stadium concessionaire – Ogden Entertainment – removed the advertising signs that had promised 18- and 12-ounce beers. Luckily, a Daily News photographer snapped a picture of one of these signs, and it’s shown here along with my first report on beer scam.

With the signs now gone, the L&I inspectors told me they could not cite Ogden for false advertising.

But had the city inspectors bothered to pour a single beer into the stadium cups, they would have found exactly what I discovered with this plastic measuring cup: It is physically impossible to fit a properly poured 18-ounce beer into this paper cup.

With even a minimum half-inch collar of foam on top, this cup can barely hold 16 ounces of beer.

There can be only two explanations:

Either the stadium is charging consumers for foam, which is tantamount to charging for air. Or the stadium is ripping off the fans.

Though they were caught red-handed, Ogden never offered any apologies or rebates to beer-drinking fans.

The simple solution would be to pour those 18 ounces of brew into larger cups. Or just lower the price.

Instead, Ogden pulled a slick sleight of hand by removing the signs. It now euphemistically calls its cups regular and large.

Now, the Daily News has been accused of making a big deal about a little beer. And it is true – it’s just suds.

But a cold cup of brew at a baseball game is as American as we get. Other cultures may satisfy themselves with caviar and cricket, or souffle and soccer. But here in Philadelphia, the birthplace of America, it’s baseball and beer.

Beer is an integral part of our national pastime. It washes down the salty peanuts, it spills out of the cup when we reach for a foul ball. Many of us remember trooping up to old Connie Mack Stadium to watch Rich Allen slam home runs off the Ballantine Beer scoreboard, and listening to the echo of a vendor’s voice shouting, “Yo, getcha cold beer here. ”

Cheating fans out of an honest measure of beer is an assault on the joy of baseball.

Unfortunately, most Phillies fans are quite accustomed to the beer racket at the Vet.

That’s a sad commentary and I can only say that I’m heartened that most fans have wised up to the beer rip-off at the Vet.

But what about the out-of-towners this city is trying so desperately to attract? In a city that is building its economic future on the development of its tourism industry, the beer scam at the Vet assaults the wallet of every citizen of Philadelphia. How can we expect to promote ourselves as a first-class destination city if we swindle visitors as if they were rubes? We lure them to our ballpark then stiff them on beer.

Maybe this isn’t grand theft. Maybe it isn’t even a blatant act of consumer fraud. But it is plainly dishonest to gouge a captive audience.

Any baseball fan can tell you that the suds-skimming scam at the Vet is not fair play.

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