Sammy Sosa gingerly stepped down the stairs to the home clubhouse yesterday, his bad back causing him considerable pain.

The Cubs' star was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained ligament in his lower back, an ailment that was brought on by two violent sneezes Sunday in San Diego.

"You know the first day it happened, I knew it was something really serious," Sosa said.

"I went through a lot of pain. Right now I feel better. "

* MONDESI IS GONE: The Pirates finally ran out of patience with absent OF Raul Mondesi, terminating his contract when he didn't show up for the start of a three-game series against the Padres.

The Pirates cited breach of contract in ending all dealings with Mondesi when he left them May 7 to return to his native Dominican Republic and fight a lawsuit.

* NO MORE CRACKER JACK: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" might not have quite the same ring at Yankee Stadium anymore.

The ballpark is bagging Cracker Jack in favor of Crunch 'n Munch, a competing caramel popcorn, Yankees spokesman Jason Zillo said.

Cracker Jack has been part of baseball for more than a century and was immortalized in the sport's own anthem, which is played during the seventh-inning stretch at ballparks nationwide.

-- From News Services