The New York Yankees not only failed to make the playoffs, they were hit with their highest luxury tax in 3 years.

The Yankees were assessed a $26.9 million tax by the commissioner's office yesterday, up from $23.9 million last year and their biggest bill since paying nearly $34 million for 2005.

The Detroit Tigers, who also failed to qualify for the postseason, are the only other team that must pay tax and owe $1.3 million to the commissioner's office.

Checks are due by Jan. 31.

Both teams got little for what they spent. The Yankees' streak of 13 consecutive playoff appearances ended, and they finished third in the AL East at 89-73, prompting them to spend nearly a quarter-billion dollars to sign pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.

Detroit entered the year with lofty expectations after acquiring Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis but went 74-88 and finished last in the AL Central.

While the Yankees pay at a 40 percent rate for the amount over $155 million, the Tigers pay at a 22.5 percent rate because they exceeded the specified threshold for the first time.

This year's figure brings the Yankees' total tax to $148.3 million in the six seasons since it began - 90 percent of the total.

Meanwhile, pitcher Chien-Ming Wang and the Yankees avoided salary arbitration when they agreed to a $5 million, 1-year contract.

In other baseball news:

* Yankees catcher Damian Taveras and Orioles pitcher Ambiorix Suero were suspended for 50 games each after positive tests for banned performance-enhancing substances under baseball's minor league program. Both players were in the Dominican Summer League.

* Rafael Furcal denied he reneged on a deal with the Atlanta Braves before agreeing to a contract last week with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

* Starting pitcher Daniel Cabrera, 8-10 for Baltimore last season, and the Washington Nationals have reached a preliminary agreement on a 1-year contract.

College Football

* Oklahoma sophomore quarterback Sam Bradford was selected college football player of the year by the Associated Press. Bradford already captured the Davey O'Brien Award and Heisman Trophy.

* An Oct. 19 fight that briefly put Michigan State hockey player A.J. Sturges in the hospital with a head injury has led to two football players facing charges. East Lansing 54-B District Court documents show that freshman running back Glenn Winston will face three counts of misdemeanor aggravated assault, while walk-on freshman defensive back Mitchell White will be charged with misdemeanor assault and battery.

Olympics

* Michael Phelps, who won eight swimming gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, has been selected as the top sports story of the year by the Associated Press.

* Norwegian rider Tony Andre Hansen was stripped of his Olympic bronze medal in team jumping after his horse tested positive for a banned drug at the Beijing Games.

Auto Racing

* Just a month removed from his first NASCAR championship, but hampered by the current economic crisis, owner Bill Davis has sold his race team and engine company. Mike Held, a California businessman, and Marty Gaunt, vice president at Bill Davis Racing, bought out the veteran owner. Davis, who has been in NASCAR for more than 20 years, won his first championship this season with Johnny Benson in the Truck Series. *