MLB plans COVID-19 vaccine mandate for minor-league players in 2022

Major League Baseball is finalizing a policy that would require all minor-league players to be vaccinated before the 2022 season, Yahoo Sports has learned. It’ll be the latest in a series of vaccine mandates that MLB and teams have rolled out recently to cover more and more people within the baseball world.

The commissioner’s office requires all employees to be vaccinated and some teams, starting with the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros, have done the same — mandating that all non-playing full-time employees get the vaccine or receive a medical or religious exemption. Several executives like Nationals VP Bob Boone resigned over the requirement, while other employees who refused were fired or quit.

As first reported by The Athletic, MLB required “managers, coaches, athletic trainers and other non-playing personnel” of playoff teams to get at least the first dose of the vaccine before Oct. 4 in order to gain access to restricted areas, like the field, during the postseason. Most recently, MLB informed teams that all players who plan to participate in the Arizona Fall League later this month. A source told azcentral that some rosters were adjusted to account for the mandate, the first of its kind to apply to players themselves.

Like other major American sports leagues, MLB likely cannot mandate vaccines for major leaguers without buy-in from the players association. The NBA hit that roadblock while expressing a preference for a vaccine mandate. It will dock the pay of players who miss games due to local vaccine laws this season. The WNBA has been a success story, with 99% of its players being fully vaccinated.

This past season, MLB created an incentive system whereby the strict COVID-19 protocols that governed baseball life during the 2020 season would be relaxed if a team reached an 85% threshold of vaccination for Tier 1 staff — players, coaches and medical personnel. Twenty-four teams reached the threshold during the season. All but the Red Sox, Cubs, Mets, Mariners, Diamondbacks and Royals, making the Red Sox — who dealt with a multi-week outbreak that decimated the roster over the summer — the only postseason team that is not at least 85% vaccinated.

The 3,000-plus minor-league players that populate baseball’s farm systems do not have union representation, which allows the commissioner’s office to issue mandates unilaterally. The expectation is that the league will disseminate a policy for teams to implement that would require all minor leaguers to be vaccinated before reporting in spring 2022.

Sandy Alderson, the Mets team president, said that the organization is working with the unions that represent stadium staff to establish a vaccine mandate for next season, as well.