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Yankees' payroll tops five teams combined

NEW YORK -- Baseball's big-money boom pushed the average
salary to a record $2.6 million on Opening Day, and the New York
Yankee' payroll of just under $200 million topped five teams
combined.

Following a rare drop from 2003 to 2004, the average climbed 5.9
percent to $2.63 million, according to a study by The Associated
Press.

"That means we're going in the right direction," San Francisco
Giants outfielder Marquis Grissom said. "When they go up, it's
always good."

Three Yankees were among the top five in salary: Alex Rodriguez,
at $25.7 million, was No. 1 for the fifth straight year, Derek Jeter was fourth at $19.6 million and Mike Mussina was fifth at $19
million.

San Francisco's Barry Bonds, who started the season on the
disabled list following knee surgery, was second at $22 million,
followed by Boston's Manny Ramirez at $19.8 million.

While the players on the Yankees' Opening-Day roster totaled
$205.9 million, cash received by New York in trades, notably last
year's deal to acquire A-Rod from Texas, cut their payroll to
$199.77 million.

"I'm just hoping that they'll let me in a card game or
something around here," new Yankees pitcher Jaret Wright, who
signed a $21 million, three-year contract, joked during spring
training. "I don't know what the buy-ins might be, but I might
have to take out some money out of my house or something."

New York is spending more than the $187 million total of Tampa
Bay ($29.9 million), Kansas City ($36.9 million), Pittsburgh ($38.1
million), Milwaukee ($40.2 million) and Cleveland ($41.8 million).

"That doesn't mean we're going to go out and give up," Kansas
City first baseman Mike Sweeney said. "We have talent and heart,
and if you play with heart, you can win games."

While the NFL and NBA have salary caps, baseball does not. The
current labor contract expires after the 2006 season.

"Sometimes in baseball it's better being the underdog because
you can sneak up on somebody," Pittsburgh outfielder Matt Lawton
said. "It's been like this the last couple of years, but the
deal's up in 2006 and, hopefully, we can get something done [to
make it better] -- but without a salary cap. Nobody wants that."

The World Series champion Boston Red Sox were second to the
Yankees, with their players adding to $121.3 million. The New York
Mets were next at $104.8 million, followed by Philadelphia ($95.3
million) and the Los Angeles Angels ($95 million).

While the Yankees have had the top payroll each year since 1999,
they haven't won the World Series since 2000. Boston was second
last year when it won its first World Series title since 1918. The
2003 champion Florida Marlins were 20th and the 2002 champion
Angels were 16th.

"At times it can be frustrating. But there's nothing we can
do," Tampa Bay outfielder Carl Crawford said. "We've just got to
keep focusing on what we can do and go out and play."

Last year, the average salary wound up dropping 2.5 percent, the
first decrease since the 1994-95 strike and only the third since
record-keeping began in 1967.

Teams then committed $1.29 billion in major league contracts to
146 players who filed for free agency after the World Series, led
by the New York Mets' $119 million, seven-year deal with Carlos Beltran. All that spending prompted Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy
to say: "I don't know what happened, maybe they drank some funny
water, but they all decided they were back on the binge."

McClatchy advocates a salary cap. The current system includes a
luxury tax, and three teams paid last year: the Yankees ($25
million), Red Sox ($3.2 million) and Angels ($900,000).

"I think the playing field economically is better,"
commissioner Bud Selig said. "Certainly we have work to do, but
it's better than it was 10 years ago. I look at places like
Detroit, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and there's excitement
everywhere."

After dropping for three straight years from 425 to 374, the
number of players making $1 million rebounded to 390. The median
salary -- the point at which an equal amount of players is above and
below -- rose to $850,000 from $800,000, still below the 2001 high
of $975,000.

Figures for the study included salaries and prorated shares of
signing bonuses and other guaranteed income for the 829 players on
official Opening Day rosters as of last weekend; for some players,
parts of salaries deferred without interest were discounted to
present-day value.

NBA players averaged $4.9 million in the 2003-04 season,
according to a preliminary estimate by their union, which did not
provide a figure for the current season. In the NHL, where a
lockout canceled the current season, players averaged $1.83 million
in 2003-04. NFL players averaged $1.33 million last year, according
to their union.