America is reopening big time, as the percentage of Americans vaccinated begins to move upwards of 50%, and new cases of Covid-19 plummet. Airports and roads are congested once again. Restaurants and bars are bringing the crowds indoors. Heck, Vermont, a state with among the most stringent anti-covid quarantine regimen in the country now says bar hopping is okay as it nears an 80% vaccination rate.
But America’s path to coveted “herd immunity”–President Biden has set a goal of 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4 as part of a full return to normalcy– is littered with all kinds of potential and theoretical obstacles. Will corporations make vaccination a condition of employment, as Delta Airlines has done? Will more colleges and universities join with the dozens that have made vaccination a condition of enrollment next fall? Will other organizations that cater to large groups gathering indoors require vaccination?
For the Boston Red Sox, the questions are here and now: How will the team get J.D. Martinez, its star slugger, to get on board with the vaccination protocols? That question illustrates the controversy that has bogged the country down for months, and threatens to continue dividing Americans, even as the vaccination drive at 50% success has enabled the U.S. to finally break free of the worst of the Covid pandemic’s deaths and economic paralysis…..as other major countries from Brazil to India to Japan remain in the throes of Covid outbreaks.
Here is the ‘problem’ associated with J.D. Martinez, as I understand it from reading newspaper sports pages: Major League Baseball has set rules that allow teams considered fully vaccinated (85% or more of players, coaches, and key staff) to discontinue wearing masks in the dugout and bullpen, to resume non-baseball team activities like clubhouse card games, and the opportunity to bring family members on road trips. For teams that don’t make the 85% level of fully vaccinated, there are serious risks as potentially affects team success—most critically, unvaccinated players are subject to seven-day quarantine periods if they come in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. By contrast, vaccinated players do not need to enter close contact quarantine unless they become symptomatic.
So back to J.D. Martinez…..If the Red Sox remain below the 85% vaccination rate, as it currently is, the team could lose him, and other unvaccinated players, for a week of quarantine, at a critical point in the season. Right now, Martinez is number four in the league in batting average, number six in runs batted in, and number nine in home runs….and the Red Sox have been in first place in their division most of the season thus far. In other words, he’s pretty much the Red Sox’ best hitter, and he makes a big difference in their fortunes. Moreover, to the extent he encourages younger players to get vaccinated, he helps the team get to the 85% level.
This isn’t the first time the slugger, who is paid in excess of $20 million a year on a multiyear deal, has gone against the medical/political grain. Back in early 2019, he was the only Latino player or player of color to join in a visit to the Trump White House in honor of winning the 2018 World Series. (He’s shown in the photo here shaking hands with then-President Trump.) In the current situation, it should be pointed out, Martinez isn’t playing the role of big-league anti-vaxxer; rather he has been coy on the subject. A Boston Globe reporter recently reported: “I asked J.D. Martinez if he considered it important for the Red Sox to gain that same advantage as other teams, as it could make a difference in their season. He acknowledged that’s been mentioned to the players
“ ‘That’s not a team decision,’ Martinez said. ‘That’s a personal decision. That’s to each his own. Everyone has the right to believe and to think what they want to think about their body and what they’re putting into their body.
‘It’s one of those things where it would be nice to have that kind of advantage. But it is what it is, you know?’ “
The reporter wasn’t satisfied. “So I finally just asked Martinez if he were vaccinated. He declined to answer.”
Such answers aren’t satisfactory to many Red Sox fans, who tend to feel the Red Sox should do anything and everything necessary to win games. They quickly forgave the manager, Alex Cora, who led the Red Sox to a world championship n 2018, when he was suspended for the 2020 baseball season as punishment for being involved in a cheating scandal while he was with the Houston Astros in 2017; he was brought back to manage the Red Sox this season.
And the fact that many of the Major League players are making millions of dollars each year is another irritant, as a number explained in comments following a Boston Globe article:
Said one fan: “Unbelievable. Employees earning millions of dollars risking the success of the team because they don’t want a jab? Seriously? Make vaccinations mandatory.”
Another: “ ‘Explain’ to the stubborn young studs that, for the good of the team’s stats, they are going to LOVE the arrangements at Double A ball.”
A third fan: “It seems ridiculous that the team resists vaccination when one of their own, Eduardo Rodriguez, missed much of last season with a serious covid complication. If a healthy athlete can be afflicted with myocarditis after covid, why would his teammates continue to avoid a simple, well proven prevention?”
It’s often said that baseball highlights issues in American society before they become widely apparent. In that event, sports and medicine as politics is likely going to be with us for a good while.