Franke: Yogi Berra would have something to say

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“We just agree different.” Yogi Berra

I had an unofficial undergraduate minor in philosophy. I studied the greats — Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Hobbes and Locke — and learned how they informed Western civilization and provided the philosophical foundation for the culture bequeathed to us today.

Of course this was before the Orwellian Newspeak censors retroactively applied their puritanical sensibilities on all these white European males from the past. It seems I wasted my formative years thinking deeply about democratic government, moral law, natural rights and liberty. Instead I should have been repenting my birth defects of gender, color, national origin and religious faith.

My background hardly prepared me for this. I grew up in Waynedale, a small independent town with the misfortune of being smack dab in the middle of the highway route between Fort Wayne and its airport. It was only a matter of time before we were conquered by the evil empire to the north. I believe the legal term was annexed, but no matter.

Rule us, tax us, regulate us as they willed, yet our culture never changed. We were a working-class town of skilled and unskilled laborers, many employed at those now-closed giant industrial plants on the south and east sides of Fort Wayne. I think the only white-collar workers in Waynedale were the pastors and the teachers at the local churches and schools.

So how does Yogi Berra enter into this? When we got our first television in the 1950s, the “Saturday Game of the Week” was always the New York Yankees or the Brooklyn Dodgers. Carl Erskine from Anderson was a star pitcher for the Dodgers but, to my six-year-old disappointment, he never pitched on the Saturdays the Dodgers were televised. But Mickey Mantle was on display with his monstrous home runs — enough to cement a lifelong loyalty from this young fan.

As I aged, I never lost my love for Mantle and what joy he gave in my childhood. But then, adulthood is a more reflective time and I eventually realized that the greatest Yankee of all time must be Yogi Berra. Yogi has 10 World Series rings, the most ever, and three Most Valuable Player awards. He was called “my assistant manager, Mr. Berra” by none other than Casey Stengel. He has his own museum in New Jersey, which I hope to visit one day. I have driven past his boyhood home on “The Hill” in St. Louis.

Yogi was not just a baseball great; he remains a folk hero to those with blue-collar backgrounds. He is a philosopher for all times, someone a boy from Waynedale can listen to and understand exactly what he means.

In the last several years, I have read four biographies and five ghost-written books by and about Yogi. He grew up working class, persevered despite the ridicule of other players and kept his cheerful demeanor regardless of the taunts and insults. He is much more enjoyable to read than Thomas Hobbes.

Which brings me back to the quote above.

I wonder if Yogi were alive today he could even understand what is going on with our national discourse. He certainly wouldn’t approve of the vitriol which is passed off as legitimate debating. Rage is standard operating procedure for too many today. Yogi never exhibited rage unless it was when Jackie Robinson was called safe at home in the 1955 World Series.

We have all experienced it. I have, to my regret. I have seen otherwise rational, good-humored people become apoplectic at the merest disagreement. It is not a matter of talking through a difference of opinion over some policy or philosophy and then moving on. The other must be vilified as stupid or evil, or preferably both. Intelligent people of good will may not, must not, disagree on even the most marginal of points. I have seen friendships end and families broken apart over political differences.

Can two people see the same problem but come up with entirely different solutions? Not anymore. Opinions are no longer just that; they have become doctrine, a new orthodoxy which brooks no doubt.

And let’s be clear. The rage is nearly all from the far left, those who claim to be woke. Can anyone recall a liberal Supreme Court justice’s home being picketed? When was the last time a conservative student group demanded that a left-wing speaker be “disinvited” or shouted down if allowed to speak? Has any Republican president called those who voted for his opponent part of “the most extreme political organization that’s existed in American history”?

Conservatives are not without blame but they are more sinned against than sinners in this instance. All we can do is respond with verbal temperance and attitudinal sobriety. Someone must. Yogi would expect it of us. And who needs Plato when you have Yogi?

Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

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