PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Even if he is the pride of the Windy City, even if Bo couldn't even keep up with him in the cross-town popularity polls, even if he is more sacred in Chicago than Da Bears, Ryne Sandberg is guilty.
Guilty of creating the biggest stir of baseball's otherwise tranquil spring.
Call it the $7 million fallout.
When the Cubs' extraordinary second baseman signed a four-year extension for a staggering $28 million a few weeks ago, it generated shivers of concern from the fields of Arizona right on through the front offices of every team in the sport.
If Ryno got $7 million per year, what will Baltimore's Cal Ripken get when his contract runs out after this season?
What about Barry Bonds and Ruben Sierra? And what in the name of the national treasury will Jose Canseco earn a couple of years down this long, scary money-grabbing road?
"It is a different world than it was at this time last year," says California Angels president Richard Brown. "Some teams are really getting very frightened about their financial future.
"I've seen some figures lately that have floored me."
Sandberg's own figures floored several of his teammates.
Andre Dawson, whose contract runs out this year, already is asking for a one-year deal for 1993 worth an estimated $6 million.
George Bell and Shawon Dunston reportedly have led an undercurrent of dissatisfaction that has flowed directly through the Cubs' clubhouse in recent weeks.
"I don't know about any of that," says Jim Lefebvre, the new Chicago manager. "No question Andre Dawson has given some great service to the Cubs.
"That's the next big one lining up, and I can't speak about that. But I can say that when you see a Ryne Sandberg signed by Chicago, it tells you that the Cubs are anxious to take care of their own. I think it is a great shot in the arm for the club.
"When you think of Sandberg, you think of the Cubs. Just like when you think of Cal Ripken, you think of Baltimore. And when you think of Robin Yount, you think of Milwaukee.
"That's what makes this kind of nice. When one of your own gets it, you're proud. Especially when it's someone who has been in this organization that long and has made a real contribution.
"A lot of guys," Lefebvre continued, "want fair market value. And they have to go somewhere else to get it. Well, Ryne didn't. The Cubs took care of him, and I think that's great."
Great for now, but what about later? What does it portend for the future when only those teams with large corporate backing can afford to pay the dollars necessary to keep superstars like Sandberg?
"Something has to be done," says Buck Rodgers, the Angels' manager. "You just can't continually be a sport subject to the haves and the have-nots.
"The rules have to be that the Yankees and Mets have the same opportunity as the Cleveland Indians and the Pittsburgh Pirates. If that's not the case, then the game itself becomes distorted."
Even Lefebvre, who doesn't want to be drawn into any Sandberg controversy, can understand the direction the game is heading.
"We know we've got to do something," he says. "Sooner or later, we have got to make more sense out of this whole thing.
"We can't continue to go this way. Shoot, the way we're going, I wouldn't be surprised to see a $90 million salary."
Meanwhile, the man who ignited the spring's great money furor goes quietly about his business, barely talking above a whisper, reluctantly answering questions about his new financial status.
"Hey, Ryno," a fan yells at him during batting practice, "is that your $7 million swing?"
Sandberg pretends as if he doesn't hear and promptly lines the next pitch down the left-field line.
"I don't let things distract me or bother me," Sandberg says.
"I'm just going about the spring the same way I always have, trying to prepare and get ready for the season."
The Cubbies, probably America's real team, have many of the same players that made them the preseason National League East favorites a year ago -- before they stumbled their way across Wrigley Field and finished 77-83 and 20 games out.
This season, aided by a starting rotation that appears improved with ex-Dodger Mike Morgan and a rehabilitated Danny Jackson, Chicago could sneak back into the race.
Providing, of course, the pressure from that huge contract doesn't have any detrimental effect on baseball's best second baseman.
"We have some of the same guys back who everyone was so high on last year," says Sandberg, who has hit 66 home runs and contributed 200 RBI across the past two seasons. "We learned some things about ourselves last year.
"We didn't play as a team."
Lefebvre, who spent most of his managing career trying to build the young Seattle Mariners, likes the idea of having a few more athletes over 25 around him.
"This is much more of a veteran bunch," he says. "They've been around awhile.