MLB to loosen restrictions for vaccinated players, coaches

PROTOCOLS: St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt (8) looks on from the dugout during a spring training game against the New York Mets at Clover Park March 14 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Jim Rassol/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Content Exchange

Major League Baseball and the players' union sent a memo to teams Monday encouraging players and staff members to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and outlining the ways in which teams can loosen virus-related protocols when they do.

The memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, urges "all players and staff" to receive one of the coronavirus vaccines, a noteworthy directive because not all players have indicated plans to get the shots this season. It also incentivizes them to do so with protocol modifications for fully vaccinated players and for teams on which 85 percent of Tier 1 individuals (coaches and players, mostly) are immunized.

According to the memo, a player qualifies as "fully vaccinated" two weeks after he receives a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single Johnson & Johnson shot.

Once players are fully vaccinated, they will be allowed to "gather in hotel rooms and other indoor spaces without masks or distancing" as long as other "non-fully vaccinated individuals are not around." They can also have vaccinated family members stay with them on the road, will not need to wear masks in weight rooms and will not need to be tested as often, according to the modifications outlined.

Once 85% of Tier 1 individuals on a given team are fully vaccinated, more protocols will be modified. No masks will be required in the dugout or bullpen. Vaccinated players will not need to wear contact tracing devices. They will be allowed to eat at restaurants and host guests in their hotel rooms. They may even be allowed to play video games in the clubhouse again, a crucial component of any modern-day team bonding.

The loosening of restrictions should make the vaccine more appealing to the many players who are unsure about getting it. In an interview with The Post last week, players' union head Tony Clark said, "It was important based on player feedback that we maintain the voluntary nature of taking the vaccine.

"There are players who are interested and even have taken the vaccine already. There are others that are concerned, and there are others that aren't interested in taking the vaccine," Clark said. "Our job is to make sure they have the information that they need to make the decision that they want to make for themselves and for their families. So that's exactly what's been happening."

Houston Astros Manager Dusty Baker was one of the first high-profile baseball people to speak about the vaccine this spring when he shared that he had initially had concerns about it.

Baker, one of just two Black managers in MLB, said he shared concerns many Black Americans have expressed about the safety of the shots.

"I know it's a touchy situation. A lot of people don't trust the vaccine," said Baker, who added that he was watching CNN when he saw an African American doctor speaking to its safety.

"He guaranteed that this would not be another Tuskegee experiment," Baker said, referencing the infamous study that began in the 1930s that tracked the progress of untreated syphilis in hundreds of Black men.

"That's what convinced me to go get the vaccine, because I was very aware of the experiment," he said. "So was my mom and dad, so I was a little leery about getting the vaccine until I saw the number of deaths and the number of people that had gotten sick all over the world."

Baker said that he recorded a few public service announcements near his home in California and that his wife, Melissa, has had the first of her two shots, too.

"It's up to the individual. I'm not going to try to convince those who are staunchly against it. But those who are on the fence and on the bubble, hopefully my words might sway them one way or another," Baker said.

Baker announced Monday that the Astros would be flying to Houston to be vaccinated after they wrapped up spring training in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday afternoon with their final exhibition game against the Washington Nationals. From there, they will head to Oakland for Opening Day. New York Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said he received a vaccine last week and will urge his players to do the same.

Others have expressed uncertainty. Minnesota Twins shortstop Andrelton Simmons tweeted out a statement saying he would not be getting the vaccine because of "past experience and personal reasons."

Los Angeles Dodgers starter Trevor Bauer told reporters the vaccine "comes down to personal medical history and personal medical choices, so I don't really want to speak on that." Some players, such as San Diego Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer and Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, say that because they have tested positive for the virus previously they still have antibodies against the virus and are weighing the pros and cons of getting vaccinated.

"I'm not sure. It's something I haven't really thought about yet," Hosmer said last week, explaining that if the training staff recommends it, he will probably follow its lead.

"I still have the antibodies from when I had it in the offseason, so I think that's something that hasn't really crossed my mind yet. Maybe it should be something that crosses my mind."

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