As any newspaper reading American knows, one of the biggest stories in late February was the New York Yankees' acquisition of Alex Rodriguez, formerly of the Texas Rangers. This was particularly interesting to me. Why? Because, as my friends know, I am a die-hard Yankee fan. And I could not be happier. I confess.
People find it strange that I root for New York (I think there is another baseball team there, but I forget their name). I grew up in Kansas. I have lived in California now for ten years. I have never been to the house that Ruth built, though it is one of my life goals to get there. But my loyalty to the Yanks goes back as far as I can recollect. I think I was maybe five or six when I put on my first baseball cap, proud as could be of the NY logo on front.
I suppose my Yankee blood is something I inherited from my father, who was and continues to be probably the biggest New York fan in the Midwest. As a kid, I remember sitting with Dad watching Reggie Jackson hit three homers in one World Series game like it was yesterday, and being awestruck as Goose Gossage would hurl the ball in excess of 100 mph. My dad introduced me to baseball at a young age, and I played from the time I was eight until 18, often fancying myself a Graig Nettles. I probably could have played college baseball had I been more serious and disciplined. But I wasn't. The usual things that distract most young men distracted me as well.
While I rarely walk onto a baseball diamond these days, I still enjoy watching the pin-striped lineup work their magic. The long Yankee tradition, and the tradition within my own family, continue to stir in my soul, and I continue to pass them along: My four-year old daughter, who is learning to identify the 50 states, proudly announces, "Home of the Yankees," when she points to New York.
But I am not merely a lover of tradition. My fancy education in political philosophy has helped me understand that what is one's own and what is old is not always what is good; sometimes the good is different from one's own. For some men this is a problem. They hate to admit that theirs is not the best. Here is the beauty of being a Yankee fan: one's own and the good turn out to be the same thing.
A good friend of mine, a smart and political man, has made the case that supporting one's local team is not unlike the piety owed to the local gods of the ancient cities. As a citizen, as an expression of civic duty and pride, one ought to encourage the team fielded by one's own community. There is political sense in this argument, and by the measure I ought to be waving L.A. Dodger banners or driving down to Anaheim Angels games. But there is something more, something deeper, that my friend has missed—the central lesson that is learned from the books of Plato, the object of philosophy.
Beyond the political horizon of ordinary citizens is the mind of the philosopher. The philosopher seeks to know the nature of things as they really are. In particular, he seeks to get beyond mere common opinions of what is good, which are usually closely related to what is familiar and traditional, and see for himself what is truly good by seeing things in their most excellent state. This is why the philosopher always appears strange if not suspicious to non-philosophic political men: because he shuns the local in his quest for the universally good, the philosopher appears impious and ungrateful. (Were some of Leo Strauss's critics to understand this basic problem, their denunciations of the supposed Straussian conspiracies that control Washington might become measured, maybe even reasonable.)
The philosophic quest for the truly good led Plato to his discovery of the "ideas," that metaphysical realm of perfection that stands as the measurement for all imperfect physical beings. A particular man or woman may become increasingly beautiful in their youth, and then less beautiful in old age; but the idea of beauty, unconnected to any actual person, remains unaltered and the standard of perfect beauty.
For the philosophic minded fellow who also happens to be a baseball connoisseur, there is playing in the abstract field of ideas the perfect ideal baseball team. It has no logo or mascot. Its players are nameless, faceless, formless, but they reveal to the philosophic mind what a perfect baseball team would be like. If the history of baseball tells us anything, it tells us that when the ideal team becomes real—when we look to real teams to see which most closely resembles the ideal team—that team plays in the Bronx, and wears pinstripes. And starting this season, they will be fielding the best player in the game at third base. I cannot wait to watch.