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An annual survey has ranked the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ payroll as the highest in Japan for the first time, the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association said Monday.

According to the union, which has conducted the survey since 1988, the average salary of union members on the Hawks’ 70-man roster this year is ¥69.6 million (roughly $625,000). It is the first time in the survey’s history that the Hawks average salary topped Nippon Professional Baseball’s 12 teams.

The Hawks, who ended a four-year salary reign by Yomiuri Giants, are the first Pacific League team to top the survey since the Seibu Lions, who were No. 1 from ’88 to ’94. Since then, the No. 1 ranking had been the sole preserve of the Giants and the Central League’s Hanshin Tigers.

The Hawks franchise moved from Osaka to Fukuoka in 1989, after it was purchased from the Nankai Electric Railway by the parent company of the Daiei supermarket chain. The club was purchased from Daiei at the end of the 2004 season.

The survey reported the average salary of the 725 union members on standard NPB contracts at ¥37.12 million, a decrease from last season of ¥999,000. Foreign players who do not belong to the union are not included in the survey, nor are performance-based incentives.

According to a former NPB executive, neither NPB nor the union has any way of ensuring that the full amount of deals between teams and players is reported accurately and that the amounts reported to the media are often much lower than the actual figures.

Since last season, the Giants slashed the pay of aging star catcher Shinnosuke Abe after the completion of his previous multiyear deal and reportedly handed high-priced lefty Toshiya Sugiuchi a hefty paycut. The Giants’ average salary dropped by ¥1.11 million to ¥57.87 million, still good enough for No. 2. The Tigers, at ¥39.49 million are third, while the CL’s Yokohama BayStars, at ¥24.4 million, were last in NPB for the fifth consecutive year.

The PL, which has dominated competition between the two leagues for the past decade, had a reported average salary of ¥38.62 million, surpassing the CL (¥35.6 million) for the second straight season.

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