FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox were one of the few big league teams not to reach the 85 percent vaccination threshold last season. Chris Sale acknowledged he was not vaccinated and the team suffered a COVID-19 outbreak late in the regular season. First-base coach Tom Goodwin refused the shot and was fired at the end of the season.
Who is vaxxed and who is not in the Sox clubhouse? It was a local guessing game around Fenway Park last season. This is going to change pretty soon, and resistance to the shot is going to have competitive and cash consequences.
COVID appears to be easing up in the United States, but baseball is going to feel its grip unless the Canadian government changes its vaccination mandate rules for those visiting Toronto. As of now, unvaccinated big league players aren’t allowed to travel into Canada to face the Blue Jays.
The Red Sox play a four-game series in Toronto starting April 25. The Sox play six more games in Toronto during the season, including a late-season trio, Sept. 30-Oct. 2.
The Red Sox may have a problem. The front office at this hour is scrambling to find out who is not vaccinated. Unvaxxed Red Sox players are going to be strongly urged to give the issue more thought.
“Anything that could keep players off the field is a concern,” baseball boss Chaim Bloom said in a text message Sunday morning. “Since we’re just now reconnecting with our new players and understanding the new CBA, we haven’t addressed this specific issue yet. We continue to be strong advocates of vaccination for anyone who’s eligible.”
We know Sale wasn’t vaccinated last season. This week, The Athletic reported that veteran shortstop and de facto team captain Xander Bogaerts is not. Amid last season’s outbreak, second baseman Christian Arroyo and reliever Josh Taylor were placed on the COVID-19-related injured list after being identified as close contacts — a status only conferred upon unvaccinated players and coaches.
Hmmmm. Sale, Arroyo, Taylor. Maybe Bogaerts. That’s four players who are possibly not eligible for April games against the Jays in Toronto.
Can anybody say Kyrie Irving?
Sox manager Alex Cora was asked about the issue Sunday morning and said, “Obviously a great question, we’ll get there when we get there, we’re gathering info to see where we’re at. As far as vaccinations and all that, things might have changed in the offseason with certain guys.
“Right now I think it’s too early to know about that and that’s a few weeks from now. Let me enjoy this one and then we can get to the tough topics.”
The Red Sox have their work cut out. They were not allowed to have contact with players during the 99-day lockout. Canada has new rules in place since the end of last season and, under the new collective bargaining agreement, players who miss games because they are unvaccinated will be placed on the restricted list and receive neither pay nor service time for those games. That could have some influence on the unvaxxed.
Everyone has their own opinion about vaccinations and mandates. But if the 2021 Red Sox vaccine reluctance carries into this season, it’s likely to have consequences on the field.
Fans might be upset if they believe a star player’s “personal freedom” is hurting the team. And players aren’t going to like losing the cash and the service time.
Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy said in a Sunday morning text message, “As an organization we have encouraged our players, employees, and fans to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Where permissible, we have mandated it as a condition of employment as of Jan. 4, 2022. Twice we have established Fenway Park as a community vaccination site, helping over 67,000 get their first and second doses or boosters. We have also created PSAs and worked with our elected officials for more than a year to promote its efficacy.
“While we cannot require our players get vaccinated, we will continue to encourage those who remain unvaccinated to get the shot.”
There it is. “We cannot require.” “We will continue to encourage.”
This could mean a showdown with star players and marginal roster players who may asked to rethink their vaccination position.
Boston’s games in Toronto are important. The Sox finished only one game ahead of them last season and the Jays are loaded with homegrown stars such as Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Alek Manoah. The Jays lost Marcus Semien, but re-signed José Berrios and Kevin Gausman, and have already added $36 million pitcher Yusei Kikuchi since the lockout ended.
Are the Red Sox going to be able to put their best team on the field for 10 games in Toronto? Will the ace of the Sox staff be available for the big games?
Sox fans deserve answers.