NEW YORK (AP) — Opening-day baseball salaries grew despite the recession, although at a slower rate than in recent years.
The average salary went up 1.8 percent to $3.3 million at the start of season, according to an analysis of rosters by The Associated Press. The increase was the lowest since a 2.7 percent drop in 2004 and down from a 2.7 rise at the start of last season.
"Revenues are flat, and salaries are virtually flat," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said Monday.
Baseball's average attendance dropped 6.7 percent last season as the economic downturn caused some fans to stay away from ballparks. Teams tried to hold down salaries as best they could during the offseason but the pressure to fill needs and multiyear contracts that already were in place led to the small rise in average pay.
Seventeen teams raised payrolls, including the World Series champion Yankees who led at $206 million — nearly six times what Pittsburgh spent. The Boston Red Sox had the biggest rise, jumping $40 million to second at $162 million.
Minnesota, moving into new Target Field, went up $32 million to $97 million. NL champion Philadelphia rose $28 million to fourth at nearly $142 million, about $4 million behind the Chicago Cubs under new owner Tom Ricketts.
"We've always said we're overpaid. There's no way Billy Wagner should ever be paid $7 million. I mean, we're playing baseball, for God's sake," Atlanta Braves reliever Billy Wagner said. "It's hard to look at your father, who's making $50,000, who has a chance to lose his job, and say, 'Yeah, I deserve this.'
"But if owners are crazy enough to pay you, what are you going to do? Turn it down?"
Among the big cutters compared with the start of the 2009 season were Cleveland (down $20 million to $61 million); Toronto (down $18 million to about $63 million); and Pittsburgh (down $14 million to a major league-low $35 million).
The Los Angeles Dodgers, whose owners are divorcing each other, dropped nearly $6 million to about $95 million.
Florida, as it promised in agreement with the commissioner's office and the players' association, raised payroll substantially, from a league low of about $37 million at the start of last season to $55 million.
Given that unemployment is high and some fans are struggling, players were thankful salaries went up.
"It means fans are coming to games. It means the union's doing a good job for us," Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton said. "The ballpark's a good place for people to unwind. They can forget about their problems for a few hours. It's a great stress relief."
The Yankees held the top four individual salary slots, led by Alex Rodriguez at $33 million. He was the highest-paid player in the majors for the 10th straight year and makes just $1.9 million less than the Pirates' entire roster. CC Sabathia is next at $24.3 million, followed by Derek Jeter ($22.6 million) and Mark Teixeira ($20.6 million).
The number of players making $1 million or more was 433 — matching the figure at the start of last season and one fewer than the record set in 2008. There were 83 at $10 million or more, down three from the mark set last year.
Forty-one players are at the $400,000 minimum. The median salary, the point at which at equal numbers are above and below, dropped to $1.1 million from a record $1,125,000.
"A year ago, I had a lot of trepidation," Selig said. "We had reason to be concerned, and we ended up last year having a marvelous year, given everything. And I feel good this year, I really do. The sport has never been more popular."
Payrolls include 828 players on opening-day active rosters and disabled lists. Figures don't include termination pay to released players, or account for money included in trades, such as money Detroit is giving Florida for Nate Robertson, St. Louis is giving Baltimore for Julio Lugo and the Los Angeles Angels are giving the Mets for Gary Matthews Jr.
The average salary decreases throughout the season as veterans are released and replaced by younger players. It finished last season at $2,996,106, according to the players' association, and $2,882,336, according to Major League Baseball. The figures vary because of different methods of calculation.
For many teams, money dictates decisions.
"We unfortunately had to make trades for J.J. Hardy and let Mike Cameron go to free agency, who we liked very well, because we couldn't really put the money into pitching and keep those players," Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said.
AP Sports Writers Colin Fly in Milwaukee and Joseph White in Washington, D.C., and AP freelance writers Amy Jinkner-Lloyd in Atlanta and Ken Sins in Arlington, Texas, contributed to this report.