When it comes to Manny, what would Nietzsche do?
What, you didn’t know Socrates was a baseball junkie?
You thought Plato and Nietzsche were so above it all they didn’t have a favorite National League team?
Yeah, stupid me, I had no idea either.
But this week I paid a visit to my local house of all things psychic: Tattered Glove Palm Reading of Chavez Ravine.
With Manny Ramirez back Friday, L.A. is now confronted with a bulked-up existential question: How should we view those who have cheated the system by using banned substances? What should we think of those who appear willing to do anything to win? How do we forgive?
Searching for answers, I convened an emergency meeting with the spirits of some of the prime shapers of Western thought.
It actually wasn’t hard to get this group together; it’s a little-known fact they have been meeting regularly to philosophize on baseball since the White Sox World Series scandal of 1919.
First up? Socrates (Manny-applicable quote: “An honest man is always a child.”).
What, I asked, do we make of this Ramirez mess?
“Well, let me say it is good, my friend, that you’re asking questions. That’s what I’m all about: pondering. The most important question is this: What, exactly, is cheating?”
Just my luck. I go looking for absolutes, all I get is doubt.
At least he was firm about this: Dodgers fans need to look within. “Isn’t it strange that so many of them heaped hot scorn on Barry Bonds, but they apparently can’t wait for Manny to return for their team?” he wondered. “What’s that say about the human condition? I wonder. . . . “
“Enough with the questions!” interjected Plato (Manny-applicable quote: “Better a little which is well done than a great deal imperfectly.”).
“Look, I’ve got answers. Absolutes. Socrates, you’ve been downing too many Dodger Dogs. Deep down, we know it when we cheat, all right. So do Manny and all the others. I’ve always said when reason isn’t in charge of the body and spirit, you’ve got real trouble. No. 99 let his appetites for fame and wealth override his reason.
“But we all know deep down when we’ve done wrong. Trust me, it eats at anyone who cheats. It puts them in their own mental jail. This puts the lie to the idea you can do anything without consequences.”
How, I asked, can you be so sure what he did was that bad?
“You’re kidding, right?” blurted Thomas Aquinas (Manny-applicable quote: “A man has free choice to the extent that he is rational.”).
“Altering the natural course of things? Bad, bad, bad. In fact, it’s downright sinful,” he said.
“Gentlemen, this is simply a matter of what I long ago called the categorical imperative,” chimed Immanuel Kant (Manny-applicable quote: “By a lie, a man annihilates his dignity as a man.”).
“We should never do anything we wouldn’t want others to do. Hey, maybe Manny wants every last player to be all-hit, no-field? Fine. But does he want everyone on the juice? All his kids? His mother? And what about other players? All the players do this stuff and his advantage is gone. Cheaters only prosper when they’re part of a small group doing the cheating.”
Then a loud roar shook the room.
“Everything said so far is hot-aired nonsense!” It was John Stuart Mill (Manny-applicable quote: “Over one’s mind and over one’s body the individual is sovereign.”).
“When are you going to get it through your pointy little long-ago-deceased heads that individual freedoms are where it’s at? Lay off Manny. Give A-Rod and Roger Clemens a break. They should be the masters of themselves, not Bud Selig or the fans or a moralist like you.
“I say ban all baseball drug laws. Want to shoot up in the on-deck circle? As long as you’re not hurting anyone, go ahead, please. And besides,” Mill said, “the fans love the long ball. Let the juice flow, let freedom reign! Long live Mark McGwire!”
I’m all for individual freedom, but individuals can have a huge effect on others without directly causing them harm. Ramirez, remember, is a mammoth role model to children and, oddly enough, a lot of adults.
“You’re not the only one confused,” said a surprisingly empathetic Friedrich Nietzsche (Manny-applicable quote: “I am a law only for my own kind, I am no law for all.”). “On the one hand, the dopers, they’re everything I’ve ever hailed: They’re supermen. They have actually made themselves better than the rest of us. The rules don’t apply to them. And I’ve always said one of the most important things in life is to give style to your character. No. 99 has made himself a work of art.”
So, I asked, where’s your confusion?
“Why would a superman need a supplement? If Manny is a true superman, he casts away the crutches and yet remains far, far better than any other hitter in the league not named Albert Pujols. If he’s a superman -- an uber-player -- he comes back clean and leads the team to World Series glory.”
Now that’s a philosophy that will certainly resonate in the Mannywood bleachers.
Still, the question of forgiveness loomed. How can we forgive someone who hasn’t even fully admitted he broke the rules?
Socrates finally had an answer.
“I’ve been reading a bit about that Buddha fellow,” he said. “Who knew he was a huge Bonds guy? The Buddha says that deep down we’re all suffering. Suffering causes us to make mistakes, big and small. Buddha’s remedy? Compassion, spread all around. Beautiful.”
So that’s it. That’s my new mind-set.
For the remainder of his career, whenever Manny Ramirez trudges to the plate, I vow to dig down and find compassion.
We will see how long my higher self holds sway.
Thanks to Raymond Belliotti and William Irwin for their guidance. Belliotti, philosophy professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, wrote “The Philosophy of Baseball: How to Play the Game of Life.” William Irwin is a professor of philosophy at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
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Age of reason
A few famous philosophers and their Manny Ramirez-applicable quotes:
“An honest man is always a child.”
“Better a little which is well done than a great deal imperfectly.”
“I am a law only for my own kind, I am no law for all.”