Turn the MLB Playoffs into October Madness

Without thinking, tell me the most memorable night of baseball you can remember from the last 10 years?  No, not Game 4 in 2012.  Think globally for a minute.  Game 162 on the 2011 season was the best day of regular season baseball, maybe ever.

The final day of the regular season that year had four teams fighting for two playoff spots.  Several of the games went to extra innings.  The night finished with walk-off wins in Baltimore and Tampa, within moments of each other, knocking the Red Sox out of the playoffs in favor of the Rays.  Here’s a video compilation in case you don’t remember it.  It was wild.

A lot of memorable baseball games have been played since then.  Heck, the 2011 World Series had one of the best baseball games of all time.  But Game 162 endures.  Why?  There’s something magical about all those unlikely events happening at the same time.  The moment would have been diminished had the games been spread out over multiple days.  Anyone who “participated” in Game 162 remembers that night well–flipping from channel to channel, monitoring social media, trying not to miss a minute.

On Thursday, MLB begins it’s American League and National League Divisional Series.  Four different series will be spread out over week.  On Thursday, we’ll have two games; on Friday, four.  The games on Friday will start around 1pm and run until you go to bed.  It’s a pretty good day to be a baseball fan.  But think for a minute.  Would it be more fun if all the games happened at the same time?

This isn’t a new concept.  Multiple games running simultaneously has become the brand of March Madness.  Many fans consider the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament to be the best weekend in sports.  We all remember–at least once–watching a buzzer beater and then immediately changing the channel to see another one.  College basketball has created a format where such a thing is possible.

On Tuesday night, the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Orioles in 11 innings.  It was a great game.  On Wednesday, the Giants beat the Mets with a go-ahead home run in the 9th inning.  It was an equally thrilling baseball game.  Baseball fans were treated to back-to-back nights of exciting postseason at its best.  But try to imagine both games played at the same time.  Imagine watching the Orioles bullpen escape run-scoring threat only to change the channel to watch the Mets do the same.  Then you change back the Blue Jays-Orioles game to see a walk-off home run before you go back to Giants-Mets to see Madison Bumgarner complete his shutout.  Social media would be buzzing.  Fans around the country would be texting/calling each other making sure they don’t miss the action.  Quick, go back the Giants game! The bases are loaded!  It would more than double the experience.

There are logical reasons why this will never happen.  Competing TV networks pay billions of dollars to televise these games and they don’t want to compete against each other.  Some fans would hate it too, because they want to see every pitch.

But today’s media world is perfectly suited for a Play Em All At The Same Time format.  Social media like Twitter allows us to follow both games at the same time even if we’re not watching both.  DVRs allow us to pause and rewind games in case we just missed something.  The internet allows instant replays and gifs for fans who are plugged in.

Moreover, playing all the games at once solves baseball’s biggest problem: pace of play.  It’s not a secret national baseball TV ratings are plunging.  There’s a lot of concern MLB is losing the next generation.  Games are too long, too slow.  We can’t change the game of baseball, nor should we try.  But playing all the games at once kills two birds with one stone.  It keeps baseball’s cherished rules from being touched while giving fans more baseball in the same amount of time.

College basketball is far from the most popular sport in America, but it seizes every March.  It becomes a national obsession.  Baseball may not be able to do the same with October, but they could try.