Arguing that “the idea that major-league baseball’s 30 teams begin each season on an even playing field is a joke”, the St. Petersberg Times’ John Romano makes a case for MLB expanding the playoffs.

Where is the hope in Tampa Bay?

Where is the hope in Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Detroit and other communities with lower revenue streams?

Perhaps in an expanded playoff system.

It is the one idea that may soon allow a Devil Rays fan to come into spring training with a legitimate reason to believe. It is the one possibility that could permit low-payroll teams to play meaningful games in September.

By adopting a playoff system similar to the NFL – with six playoff teams in each league and first-round byes for the top two – baseball could begin to overcome the inequities that have doomed some cities to failure.

Naturally, the idea is not for everyone. If, for instance, you miss four-man rotations, you’re not going to like this. If you believe all World Series games belong in the daylight, you’ll probably not climb aboard.

If you miss baseball the way it used to be, this idea basically stinks. And I understand that. Most of the time, I feel that way myself.

But this is 2005, not 1955, and baseball is not the same. You aren’t going to buy a bleacher seat for a quarter or a soda pop for a nickel.

Baseball is no longer a diversion, it is big business. A box seat that cost $5 at Yankee Stadium in 1975 went for $95 in 2005. And for that kind of money, fans want more than entertainment. They want a winner.

This proposal is a way to get more winners. Or, at least, the illusion of more winners.

How would it work? Either by having three wild cards in each league, or by splitting into four divisions in each league and having two wild cards.

The four lower seeds would play in the first round, and the winners would face the two division winners with the best records. The League Championship Series and the World Series would follow.

Bud Selig would have you believe the problem is not that severe. He would point out the Marlins won a World Series in 2003 with a small payroll. And the Twins have been competitive with modest payrolls.

Unfortunately, those are isolated cases. The simple truth, according to USA Today salary figures, is 31 of the past 40 playoff teams were in the top half of the league in payroll. That’s about 78 percent.

Given the Devil Rays play in the league as the A’s, you’d think Romano would be able to cite at least one more example of a “communitiy with lower revenue streams” that is home to a perennial contender.