51 years of trying to beat the traffic at Dodger Stadium

dodger-stadium-construction.jpgIn the process of coming up with something to write, my first inclination was to write about Game 5 of the 1959 World Series, where the Chicago White Sox beat the Dodgers 1-0 before a crowd of 92,706 at the Coliseum. In the L.A. Times coverage of that game, there was a sidebar about traffic, and how the fans showed up late (which makes sense as there were a lot of them and the game was played on a Tuesday afternoon), but all stayed until the end (probably not all, but it would have been hard to notice a few hundred people leaving.) Then, they were faced with what was an estimated drive of 90 minutes from the Coliseum to the Civic Center.

Then I got to wondering, there had to be a time when Dodgers fans started to get the reputation as fans who arrive late and leave early to games. Not all late arrivers leave early, but that doesn't keep sports writers from other parts of the country using it as a stereotype they can rely on when facing a deadline or killing time on Twitter.

Some people have told me that have seen "hundreds" or "thousands" of cars leaving the Dodger Stadium when they saw Kirk Gibson's home run in the 1988 World Series. You can watch a not very great video here. All I can see is one set of taillights and I believe one set of headlights. But, if you notice the shot of the crowd in the right field pavilion, nearly everyone is still there.

However, in 1988, the image of the early departing Dodgers fan was entrenched in the minds of the national media as a fact almost bordering on dogma.

I decided to go looking through the historical database of the Los Angeles Times. (I apologize for not being able to link the articles, but the database makes that troublesome.) I figured the concept would have started sometime after Dodger Stadium opened in 1962. My search did not take a long time.

Dodger Stadium opened on April 10, 1962. There were no exhibition games or any kind of dress rehearsals for how the stadium would work. The first game was going to be the season opener against Cincinnati. People would be going to a place that they had never been to. A lot of them.

The day before the game, Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker issued this warning to fans, "It will take two hours to get into Dodger Stadium at Chavez Ravine and two hours to get out." Parker's favored route into the stadium was to use the Elysian Park Avenue entrance off of Sunset. His second favorite was to use Scott Avenue. He told people to avoid the Academy Road entrance at all costs since it was supposed to be the most congested. (As a side note, I almost always use the Academy Road entrance now. Because it is the least congested. Echo Park residents have continually battled the Dodgers over the Scott Avenue route.)

Parker's "two hour" prediction lacked some specificity. Most importantly, it wasn't two hours to or from any particular place. It was just "two hours."

It turned that on Opening Day, the traffic was not particularly bad. Jim Murray wrote that it took him just one hour to get to Dodger Stadium from his home in Malibu. Of course, Murray probably got to the game much earlier than most of the fans, but that is still an impressive time.

Two days after Opening Day, Sid Ziff of the Times had a column with the headline "Beating the Jam." There was one small picture in the column. It was of Chief Parker.

Ziff asked Parker why the predicted traffic nightmare at "Golden Gulch" (a nickname the Times tried to bestow on Dodger Stadium that didn't stick). Parker responded (emphasis mine):

I think our admonition had its desired effect. Apparently, it resulted in the crowd getting in early and avoiding this great crush. Equally important is that 75 percent of the spectators left before the ninth inning and this was motivated by a desire to avoid a tieup. The people listen and complied with our warning and I am glad of the way everything turned out.

Parker did not say where he got his source for the number of people who left the game early, but it is a safe bet to believe that a noticeable number of people left early. The Dodgers were reportedly upset with Parker because they thought he kept the game from being sold out. The reported paid attendance for the game was 52,564, a few thousand shy of Dodger Stadium's legal capacity of 56,000. (The number of seats in the Stadium is a well-guarded secret, but the Dodgers conditional use permit from the City of Los Angeles prohibits crowds of more than 56,000. The Dodgers have gone over 56,000 people a few times anyway.)

But, for the rest of 2012, Dodgers fans don't have to worry about beating the traffic. Or the Dodgers beating another team since the season is over. Writers from New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and St. Louis, or just about any other city with baseball will be back to make the jokes about Dodgers fans leaving early. But 2013 will mark the 52nd year of Dodgers fan being worried about traffic. That's just how he are here. It is our in DNA. We will just have to live with it.

Photo: Construction of Dodger Stadium, on the reserved level down left field line. USC Specialized Libraries | Walter O'Malley.com

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