Think back to your college philosophy professor. If you can remember them at all, you would probably recall that were well-versed in the theories and thoughts of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. Chances are they talked in depth about existentialism, epistemology and syllogisms. And perhaps they challenged you to think about mind-bending questions such as, “What is the meaning of life?”
But here are a few things they probably didn’t do: They probably didn’t write a chapter in a book called “The Red Sox and Philosophy: Green Monster Meditations.” They probably did not link “Red Sox Nation” with an Eastern philosophical approach that values “we” more than “I” and attributes the opposite philosophical outlook to the New York Yankees. And they almost certainly didn’t share those views as part of a talk in a bar located in New York.
Nevertheless, Chelsea Harry, 31, a newly hired assistant professor of philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University, has combined the academic philosophical studies of Descartes and Confucius with real world subjects, such as baseball. Her book chapter, “We Are Family: The Self and Red Sox Nation,” published two years ago by Open Court, weaves in the differences between Eastern and Western culture and how they apply to the Red Sox and Yankees. In her teaching, she hopes to weave the traditional deep, philosophical subjects with some of today’s popular culture as a way to show students how philosophy is relevant to their lives. “I had written the Red Sox piece as a way to teach an important difference between eastern and western concepts of self using a popular model of rivalry,” she says.
What she found – with a mixture of factual information and an admitted biased perspective – was that while both teams and their fans enjoyed much success, there are significant differences that are rooted unconsciously in Eastern and Western philosophical approaches to life.
“Red Sox fans view the players and coaches as almost an extension of their families,” Harry says. “The team and the fans view each other, in many respects, as one and the same. Whether they realize it or not, they embody many of the values of Eastern philosophy, such as that espoused by Confucius.”
She notes that this sort of “oneness” with the team may be attributable, at least in part, to the decades and decades of shared disappointment. The Red Sox had gone 86 years without a World Series championship until their victory in 2004. To make it even more painful, several times they had risen to the brink of baseball nirvana during their drought, only to fall short in post-season play.
By contrast, she said the Yankees have embodied more of a philosophy that has been historically pervasive in the West. It’s more oriented to the individual – hiring many all-star players and hoping that the whole will equal the sum of all the individual talent. She said they seem to have a sense of entitlement – a belief that they should and must win the World Series each year. Anything less than winning the World Series is viewed as a failure in their eyes.
“Yes, the Red Sox sought to hire some all-star players, as well, but not to the same degree,” she says. “And they have relied more on the intangibles and a sense of community.” The ultimate success of the “Idiots,” the nickname of the Red Sox team in 2004, is an example.
“I suppose we should leave open the possibility that the Yankee fans might be more of a community if they were to suffer for a long period of time with losing teams,” she says. “In fact, I would like to be able to test that theory,” she jokes, admitting that she is a lifelong Red Sox fan and grew up in Massachusetts.
When a Red Sox player puts himself ahead of the team, the fans will turn on him, she says. She noted the departure of Manny Ramirez, who after months of reported temper tantrums and egoism, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008. But the fans grew tired of him well before the trade, despite being among the best hitters in the American League.
She points to the constant ego battles on the Yankees during the late 1970s and early 80s, such as between Reggie Jackson and manager Billy Martin, and between Martin and Steinbrenner, as typifying how they put “me” ahead of “we.” And while those dramas have subsided on the Yankees of today, she said you still see A-Rod’s celebrity status in social circles, and Derek Jeter appearing in TV commercials.
Another difference between Yankee and Red Sox values can be demonstrated in how many of their players have had their number retired. While the Yankees have retired the number of 16 of their players, the Red Sox have only retired the number of seven of theirs. “Again, this points to a difference in emphasis between team and self.”
Harry admits that the Red Sox have had some problems of their own this year, driven in part by personalities. “After the success of 2004 and 2007, you might be seeing some of the ‘it’s all about me’ mentality creeping into the organization. There may be a bit of an identity crisis going on right now. But I suspect this is an aberration and that the team will go back to its roots.”