The furious wisdom of baseball crowds

ACCORDING TO “The Wisdom of Crowds,” a 2004 book by James Surowiecki, pluralistic markets of non-specialist individuals tend to arrive at conclusions and predictions that are reliably more accurate and efficient than those made by experts. Another way of putting it — and I’m talking to you, Frank McCourt! — is that baseball fans already knew how to park at Dodger Stadium.

In L.A., where no intelligence is more coveted than knowledge of optimal driving routes, the masses have long developed their own idiosyncratic strategies to cope with such logistical squeeze plays as going from Venice to Hollywood at rush hour, Las Vegas to Los Angeles on a Sunday evening — and to and from Dodger Stadium on opening day. Some routes are better than others, but the net result of group experimentation is that a bad situation doesn’t get much worse.

Enter the Dodgers’ pratfall-prone owner. McCourt (who made a fortune in parking lots in his native Boston) decided in the off-season that the way to improve Chavez Ravine’s car-crunch was to eliminate the one thing keeping it from being a real nightmare: human choice.

Now, instead of traffic flowing opportunistically into whatever route the defense offers, fans are being herded like goats into lots near where they enter, and forced (with a few exceptions) to leave exactly from whence they came. The result Monday was as predictable as a runner advancing on Juan Pierre: The worst traffic most people had ever seen at a baseball game.

I managed the two-mile- plus post-game commute to work in a cool 90 minutes, and even that doesn’t do justice to the horror. Planners have created scores of new parking spots from which you can only exit by backing up directly into the three-lane flow of outbound traffic, a feat requiring an average of three uniformed traffic herders per disruption.

Thankfully, the Dodgers’ website urges attendees to check the “parking alert page,” where you can learn such handy tips of the day as “check traffic before you leave for the stadium” and “arrive early at the ballpark to avoid missing any of the game.” Even that latter tip is a cruel hoax: The parking gates only open two hours before game time so as to discourage tailgating.

I know opening day is always a bit chaotic. But this just won’t do, Frank. Dodger Stadium is a holy place, even to us Angels fans. Baseball enthusiasts don’t ask for much — we want to be able to buy a hot dog in less than an inning, say, and to spend more time inside the park than outside in our cars.

Instead, we find ourselves cursing the foolishness of Dodger planning and wondering how anyone could think this is worth a 50% hike in parking fees. If the situation doesn’t improve soon, the wisdom of the best crowds in baseball may conclude that it’s more rewarding to stay home and listen to Vin Scully.


Matt Welch