There's a fascinating story playing out in New York, one that not only says something about the state of professional sports today, but maybe also about the country we live in.
It is the contract catfight between icon Derek Jeter and the Yankees, and it's become very public and increasing ugly.
Did you ever think it would come to this: Yankees general manager Brian Cashman telling Jeter's people that maybe he should go out and test the market?
Say it ain't so, Joe DiMaggio.
The broad brush strokes of this dispute are this: Jeter, who will be 37 next year and is coming off a bad year, wants what has been called "A-Rod money," something like $20 million a year for six years. The Yankees supposedly are offering $15 million a year for three years.
Can you say impasse?
What is making this a growing story in the entire baseball world is that it's all become public, splashed across pages of the New York tabloids as if it were Charlie Sheen having a drug meltdown with a hooker in the Plaza.
Yankee fans seem split down the middle on the issue, if letters to the editor are any example.
So why did it ever get this crazy?
How did we get to the point when soon-to-be-37 shortstops that already have made nearly $200 million and have had a career out of some adolescent fantasy aren't content with $45 million more?
Welcome to the fun house of pro sports, which long ago became fantasyland.
Remember when players actually retired?
It's been a long time now. Very few athletes retire anymore, not on their own terms anyway. That is real old school, back in the day of flannel uniforms, back in a time when being a professional athlete was just something you did before you went on to have a second act doing something else. There is simply too much money out there now, and all you need is one team to give you some more.
This is not just about Jeter, not really, even if someone close to him might ask the question: Don't you already have enough money? Isn't the roughly $200 million you've made enough? Isn't someone offering you $45 million more to play for three years, even if you're at an age where both the game's history and common sense tell us that your skills are probably going to decline, enough? Isn't being Derek Jeter in New York enough, the kind of exalted status that makes him more millions in endorsements and will give him a charmed life forever?
Makes you wonder.
Jeter's not the only one, of course.
We have seen David Ortiz make noises that the Red Sox picking up his option for $12 million was a sign of disrespect, before he came to his senses. We have seen countless examples of players saying they were being "disrespected" because they weren't offered enough money, even though the money being offered could probably have fed a small town for years.
This is the landscape of pro sports, where the normal rules don't apply.
But these are not normal times. We are in the midst of the worst economic mess since the Great Depression, in the midst of a fractious society in which too many people are hurting, too many people have seen their dreams go up in smoke. A society in which the gap between the rich and the poor keeps getting wider. And now we have too many spoiled athletes living in some special land of the privileged, totally removed from the rest of us.
That should make us wonder, too.
Jeter is just the latest athlete who seemingly is behaving as if he lives in a clueless world.
One theory is that he wants to make "A-Rod money," as if the rivalry between the two has never really gone away, as if his ego has become defined by how big his salary is, even now. Whatever the reason, it all seems rather unseemly.
So who do you root for in what has become a very public squabble?
Do you root for the Yankees, who throw money at players the way batting practice pitchers groove pitches and now want to draw a line in the sand for one of their all-time greats? Or do you root for Jeter, the iconic Yankee, this generation's DiMaggio, one of those players who will live forever in the pantheon of Yankee heroes?
Or do you just stand by and watch, amazed at how sports ever got to this point?