Two high-profile Cubs offered a glimpse Friday night into debates continuing within major-league clubhouses on the value of COVID-19 vaccinations.
And their comments during a postgame Zoom session with media may, in turn, have offered a glimpse into why the Cubs and many other teams have not been able to reach the 85-percent vaccination rate required for MLB to ease safety restrictions — and why the Cubs are not especially confident they’ll ever reach the mark.
Kris Bryant, the former MVP who’s off to an MVP-caliber start to this season, said he’s been vaccinated and that “I feel great [and have] a great peace of mind to just go out there and play baseball.”
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Jake Arrieta, the former Cy Young Award winner who returned Friday from the injured list with another strong start, expressed skepticism about vaccinations, citing the recent positives among Yankees coaches who had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Arrieta agreed that the science suggests the percentages are on the side of the vaccinated, but added: “Also based on that information and the science, the people that are vaccinated shouldn’t necessarily have to worry about getting COVID-19, but that has also been proved wrong as well.
“Seems like things change daily. So who knows?”
The comments from both players were made in the context of questions that arose from a pregame session with manager David Ross, who said he’s not sure the Cubs will reach the 85-percent threshold — and in the context of outbreaks with the Yankees and Padres this week that prompted Padres manager Jayce Tingler to say “it’s a clear competitive advantage to get to that 85 percent.”
Tingler lost young star Fernando Tatis Jr. to a positive test, among five Padres players sidelined by positives or contact tracing.
“I don’t necessarily see that as a competitive advantage or disadvantage,” Arrieta said. “We have a lot of guys vaccinated. We have not had any cases in the past month, so we’re doing OK as a group. And we’re being careful about where we go and who we’re around.”
Arrieta said he’s “focused on” limiting outside contact and “just minimizing the risk as much as possible.”
Bryant, whose league-leading .667 slugging percentage and 1.070 OPS suggest his strength and health are fine since getting vaccinated, didn’t hesitate to agree with Tingler’s premise.
“Anytime you’re on the field is a plus, especially when you have your good players on the field,” said Bryant, who echoed Ross’ doubt over reaching the 85-percent mark. “We’re not there yet. I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, either. But if that’s going to be the story for us this year, then we’ve got to do all we can to make sure that we don’t run into situations like that, and just be diligent to get through the season. And after that guys can do whatever they please.”
The Cubs were the only team without a player testing positive during the summer camp or the 60-game season last year and won the division.
The White Sox are one of the few known teams to have reached the 85-percent mark, and despite injuries have kept enough players (read: pitchers) on the field to produce the best record in the majors.
Ross recently said the Cubs were close to 80 percent vaccinated. But they’ve plateaued since then in persuading any more player to get shots, despite information efforts by the medical staff re-emphasized each time the team returns from a road trip.
The “Tier 1” personnel that make up the 100 or so employees impacted by the 85-percent rule, include coaches, support staff and all the players. Most, if not all, of the support staff and coaching staff are believed to have been vaccinated, based on conversations with multiple sources.
The opposing perspectives of Bryant and Arrieta might suggest how some conversations in the clubhouse sound, if not why the Cubs have reached their apparent ceiling on those willing to get vaccinated.
It’s a far cry from the unified rhetoric of players and management alike less than a year ago when it came to respect for the dangers of the virus and the organizational buy-in on the Cubs’ industry-leading safety measures.
“It’s not really a focus of mine to convince anybody otherwise,” Bryant said. “I got it, and I have a peace of mind of knowing that I’m on the field and I want to be on the field for this whole season.”
He’s not the only one. All-Star shortstop Javy Báez and promising young starter Adbert Alzolay also are among those who say they’ve been vaccinated.
“It’s an individual question for everyone,” said Bryant, who added that players have talked about the value of mask mandates and distancing restrictions in the clubhouse and dugout being lifted.
“I don’t know if we’re going to get there. My personal experience [is] the peace of mind for me is something I really wanted this year, and I got it with this,” Bryant said. “It certainly would be nice to have one locker room instead of seeing half the other guys on the other side of the world here.
“But that’s the cards that we’re dealt right now, and that’s what we’re going to deal with and we’re just going to go with on the fly, and maybe we get there and maybe we don’t, but hopefully everybody stays safe and we get through the season.”