ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom met with reporters via video conference on Wednesday. His hope was to avoid too many questions about the team’s COVID-19 outbreak.
“Before this turns into the biggest self-own in Red Sox media history, you can tell me how stupid I was to try to be the pincushion here,” Bloom told vice president of media relations Kevin Gregg before the session started.
“All good,” Gregg said.
In a video accidentally uploaded to a team website, Bloom said team president Sam Kennedy told him not to allow the interview to be too focused on vaccinations.
Gregg said he would suggest to reporters that they could also pose questions not related to the outbreak.
It didn’t work.
Bloom was asked 22 questions and 16 were about the Red Sox having six players test positive and two others identified as close contacts.
“It’s gut-wrenching,” Bloom said. “How else can you react? Every single one has been. We try to go to great lengths to keep these sorts of things from happening.”
Bloom kept his replies concise in the 22-minute session and offered few concrete answers. He acknowledged the team didn’t know what touched off the outbreak.
“We’ve known it was possible, but I wish we knew exactly why this happened and why it happened when it happened,” he said.
Bloom confirmed the Sox experienced a number of “breakthrough infections” of vaccinated players testing positive.
“There’s no real way to know if it would have been different if we had a higher vaccination rate or not,” Bloom said.
“In this case I don’t know that that’s knowable and it doesn’t seem that helpful to play the what-if game.”
What is known is the Sox are one of the few teams remaining who have failed to reach Major League Baseball’s threshold of 85 percent to be considered fully vaccinated.
Bloom said some of the players have had symptoms but no long-term effects are expected.
Most of the roster was in place before vaccinations first became available. Bloom was asked if vaccination status would be a factor in assembling the team for next season.
“That’s going to have to be a conversation in the industry that we step back and have,” Bloom said. “Obviously there’s a lot of different levels to that conversation including the rights of our players and what that should mean.”
Should the Sox have done a better job of educating the players about the vaccine and dispelling falsehoods?
“I’ve asked myself that a lot throughout the year,” Bloom said. “Certainly through some sleepless nights the last few days. Obviously if we had pinpointed it, we would have done it.”
Bloom said the Sox “moved the needle” at times with the vaccine rate. But it wasn’t enough. Now the team is playing with a patchwork roster as it competes for a spot in the playoffs.
The Red Sox are governed by baseball’s collective bargaining agreement and cannot mandate the players be vaccinated.
But the Astros and Nationals now require vaccines for all other team employees. The Red Sox have not, but Bloom said that could be a consideration in the future.
“We are all interconnected in this society. We are interconnected in this organization. We’re a family and we have each other’s backs,” he said.
The Sox were in first place on July 31. They’re now closer to fourth after a 12-16 August.
“It’s been difficult,” Bloom said. “There’s a reason we play 162 games. You usually find out a lot more in 162 than you find out in 100, 81 or 40.”
The Sox proved to be a poor defensive team. They also haven’t received a significant boost from players promoted from Triple A during the season outside of righthander Tanner Houck.
Bloom defended his moves — or lack of — at the trade deadline and suggested Kyle Schwarber could be more than a rental.
“He’s a player that we’ve liked even before acquiring him,” Bloom said. “Everything he’s done since coming here has only strengthened that impression.”
Bloom wasn’t the pincushion he feared. But for the first time in his nearly two years in the job, he wasn’t supremely confident in his answers and what comes next.