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 in 2003, 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.''
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