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For the New York Yankees, the tax man came early this year.

They must pay $4,431,180 or nearly 40 percent of the money in the first year of baseball's luxury tax, according to documents sent to teams by the owners' Player Relations Committee.

Four other teams will have to pay tax to the commissioner's office by Jan. 31: Baltimore ($4,030,228), Cleveland ($2,065,496), Atlanta ($1,299,957) and Florida ($139,607).

The luxury tax, which became the center of the fight between players and owners during collective bargaining, was designed to prevent high-revenue teams from even higher payroll escalation.

Including $5,100,715 per team for benefits, the Yankees had the highest payroll at $68,267,435, followed by Baltimore ($67,121,858), Cleveland ($61,508,337), Atlanta ($59,321,083) and Florida ($56,005,799). The top five teams advanced to postseason.

While the tax originally was to be levied on 35 percent of the amount of payrolls above $51 million, the union insisted on a clause limiting it to only the teams with the five-highest payrolls. Because of that, the threshold rose from the $51 million originally envisioned in the agreement to $55,606,921.

In all, the tax generated nearly $12 million this year, of which $10 million will be used to cover the 1997 shortfall in the teams' revenue sharing plan. The remainder will go to the five American League teams that had the lowest net local revenue in 1996.

Pittsburgh had the lowest payroll for luxury tax purposes at $16.6 million. Detroit was 27th at $21.3 million.

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