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SANDBERG BASEBALL'S FIRST $7 MILLION MAN

Ryne Sandberg is tied for 160th on the 1992 salary list. As of now, he'll be No. 1 in 1993.

The eight-time All-Star second baseman jumped right over the $6 million barrier Monday and became baseball's first $7 million man, too, agreeing with the Chicago Cubs on a four-year contract extension with an option worth a total of $28.4 million.Sandberg, 32, easily outdistanced baseball's previous high, which was Bobby Bonilla's $5.8 million average.

"I'm very happy; it's a big relief," Sandberg said at a news conference called to announce the deal. "I think a lot of time and work went into this on both sides, it was handled very professionally."

But his reign at the top may not last very long. Baltimore's Cal Ripken, Minnesota's Kirby Puckett and Boston's Wade Boggs all can become free agents at the end of the season and are looking for extensions.

It was just Nov. 17, 1989, when Puckett became the first $3 million player and June 27, 1990, when Oakland's Jose Canseco became the first $4 million man. Roger Clemens of Boston pushed the top past $5 million on Feb. 8, 1991.

"They can't complain about my contract," Canseco said Monday. "I'm one of the poorest guys in baseball."

Sandberg, who already was signed for 1992 at $2.1 million, gets a $3.5 million signing bonus to be paid in December, $5.1 million over each of the next four seasons and a guaranteed payment of $2 million for personal services, to be paid during the four years after he retires. In addition, the Cubs have an option for 1997 at $5.9 million with a $2.5 million buyout.

"I couldn't be happier with the fact that we're going to have Ryne Sandberg playing second base for a long time with the Chicago Cubs," Cubs general manager Larry Himes said. "His career is going to be a Chicago career."

Sandberg, a nine-time Gold Glove winner, batted .291 last season with 26 homers and 100 RBIs, becoming the first second baseman to drive in 100 runs in consecutive seasons since Bobby Doerr of the Boston Red Sox in 1949 and 1950. Sandberg's 200 homers as a second baseman are the fifth-highest total for that position in major league history.

"He'll be in the Hall of Fame, and there are very few players in the game with that potential who elect to spend their career with one organization," Himes said.

Previously, the highest annual average belonged to Bonilla, who exactly three months earlier agreed to a $29 million, five-year contract with the New York Mets.

"The main thing is this guy belongs in Chicago, Illinois. Period," Turner said. "When you think of Chicago baseball, Ryne Sandberg is one of the identifying features."

And Sandberg might get to sign a new contract when this one expires. After all, athletes play into their 40s now.

"I'll know that it's time to retire when the time comes," Sandberg said. "For now, I just plan to keep myself in good shape and see what happens."