Why Cubs, most teams fall short of MLB COVID-19 vaccination goal

Gordon Wittenmyer
·4 min read
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Why Cubs, most teams fall short of MLB vaccination goal originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The team that set the standard in Major League Baseball last year for COVID-19 safety is facing the same kind of hesitancy and pushback from players regarding vaccines that has kept most MLB teams from reaching the 85-percent vaccination threshold mandated to relax protocols this season.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I’m hopeful,” Cubs manager David Ross said Thursday after the team traveled for the first time this season to open its first road series, against the Pirates in Pittsburgh.

The Cubs were the only team in the majors without a player testing positive for the virus during the three-month process of summer training camp and the pandemic-shortened, two-month season.

This time around they’re among a large number of teams that have yet to reach the 85-percent threshold for the 100 or so personnel, mostly players, that fall under Tier 1 classification, even after spending the opening homestand making vaccines available to all personnel.

“I understand that we can’t mandate guys do it,” team president Jed Hoyer said as the club began providing team-wide vaccines. “I understand that it’s a personal choice. But it’s something I will recommend guys doing.”

Only the Cardinals are known to have reached the 85-percent mark required to allow loosening of protocols such as mask wearing in dugouts and bullpens and restrictions on indoor dining. Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Wednesday he expected the Yankees to reach the threshold “soon.”

By contrast, the Nationals put nine players on the injured list for unspecified issues, including ex-Cubs Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber, when they finally opened their season this week after a COVID outbreak caused a delay. At least four Washington players reportedly tested positive, but the Nats did not identify which players were among them.

Ross, who said he was vaccinated in Arizona, called the percentage vaccinated Cubs a “moving number” because some Tier 1 personnel are at the alternate site in South Bend and still training in Arizona.

“The number’s moving up, and I know we’re getting closer,” he said, but added: “I have a roundabout percentage in my head, but I’ll keep that in house for now.”

Former MVP runner-up Javy Baez is the most notable Cubs player who publicly has said he received at least his first shot. Jason Heyward last week said he had not yet. And infielder Eric Sogard’s wife in instragram criticized MLB’s restrictions on non-vaccinated players, including barring family from staying at the team hotels.

Asked if he was surprised the team that arguably got the best 2020 buy-in from players in the majors on safety protocols hasn’t gotten the same buy-in with vaccines in ’21, Ross said:

“What I would say is everyone is getting educated on the vaccine, and the docs are having conversations daily. This is an individual choice, and every individual feels differently about it, for different reasons you’re finding out.

“These guys are kind of going back and forth,” he added. “Some guys were hard-nosed early and they’ve come around, and some guys are still getting information. … Everybody wants to loosen the reins on the protocols, but everyone also has different thoughts on it.”

Ross said he “definitely thinks” some of the hesitation involves major league athletes’ concerns over what goes into their bodies.

“But there’s a lot of topics,” he added. “You’ve got young married couples that have different priorities for their life and are worried about repercussions of things and want to just find the research and get as much information before there’s any some kind fo long-term side effect that might be out there or they’re unsure of.

“There’s a gamut of reasons, man. …And I respect their thoughts and their stances, and we just try to continue to give them the right information, find them the research to help them make the best decision for us as a team and for them and their life and their careers.”

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