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Sports >  Seattle Mariners

Larry Stone: The Mariners have a right not to get vaccinated. And we have a right to judge

UPDATED: Sat., May 22, 2021

Seattle manager Scott Servais watches from the dugout as the Mariners play against the Texas Rangers during the fourth inning May 9 in Arlington, Texas. Servais said he’s eager for more players to get vaccinated.  (Associated Press)
Seattle manager Scott Servais watches from the dugout as the Mariners play against the Texas Rangers during the fourth inning May 9 in Arlington, Texas. Servais said he’s eager for more players to get vaccinated. (Associated Press)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

SEATTLE – As a grim-looking Scott Servais said numerous times Friday in his pregame Zoom session, the decision by Mariners players to get vaccinated or not is a personal choice.

That is indeed true – and the Major League Baseball Players Association was so adamant on that point that it insisted vaccination not be made mandatory. Union chief Tony Clark has said they did so at the strong behest of players as expressed via polling.

So, yes, players have the right to do what they want and what they feel is best. That includes rejecting the vaccine that is now readily available across the country, and which medical experts agree gives us our best chance of eradicating COVID-19 and returning to normal life.

Their beliefs are their beliefs.

But I have the right to point out my belief that such a decision is misguided, shortsighted, and potentially dangerous to others. Frankly, it smacks of selfishness.

Fans have the right to be upset that the already-struggling Mariners will now be short-handed for an indeterminate time with Friday’s unsettling news: Four relievers were placed on the injured list due to a positive COVID test within the team and the subsequent contact tracing. Results of further COVID testing will be available Saturday, meaning more fallout could be forthcoming.

The Mariners are sure making it hard for people to get behind them – even the ones predisposed to give them every benefit of the doubt. Between the Kevin Mather incident early in spring training, to the season-long hitting drought that has reached embarrassing proportions, to now this maddening team-wide aversion to vaccination.

For a franchise already riding a 19-year playoff drought, it’s not the best way to win friends and influence people.

The Mariners are believed to be hovering around 50% of players vaccinated. GM Jerry Dipoto all but predicted last week that the Mariners would eventually have a COVID disruption. But I’ll make the same point as I did two days ago in a column about Seattle’s hitting woes in the wake of being no-hit for the second time in 13 days and dropping under .200 as a team: This is not just a Mariners issue; it’s an MLB issue.

On Friday, MLB and the MLBPA in a joint news release gave out some vaccination numbers. Just 14 of the 30 MLB teams have reached the threshold of 85% or more of their Tier 1 individuals being fully vaccinated, which allows for the relaxation of a variety of health and safety protocols. Two more clubs will get there within the next week because enough Tier 1 people received their final vaccine dose.

But that still leaves 14 teams under the threshold, which means that an awful lot of Tier 1 folks have an awful lot of doubts about the vaccine. For the record, Tier 1 consists of not just players, but also managers, coaches, bullpen catchers, team physicians, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and strength and conditioning coaches.

Overall, according to the news release, 84.4% of all Tier 1 individuals are considered partially or fully vaccinated. It’s reasonable to think that out of that group, the players are the ones most resistant. As Gabe Lacques of USA Today wrote, “Virtually every manager has said they will get vaccinated or confirmed they received it. Additionally, nonplaying staff have no union and far less leverage than players. If you’re a relatively fungible coach, assistant athletic trainer or media relations rep, do you want to be the person who infected a team and disrupted a $10 billion industry?”

The Mariners have done all they can to persuade players to get vaccinated. At the major league level, they brought in two leading physicians from the University of Washington school of medicine, Dr. Vin Gupta and Dr. Santiago Neme, to provide information to Tier 1 groups and answer questions. At the minor league level, they made it known that vaccinated players would have an advantage for call-ups because they wouldn’t have to go through as much protocol.

The minor leaguers bought in. Dipoto said recently they have a vaccination rate of more than 90% in their farm system and nearly 100% at Tacoma.

But the message has not resonated within the major league clubhouse. I’m not going to begin to speculate why this is the case, because that’s treading on dangerous ground.

But you’ve no doubt heard all the common sources of vaccination hesitation – most of them debunked by medical experts. Team officials are adamant about not disclosing who is or isn’t vaccinated, citing medical privacy guidelines.

Perhaps this latest COVID incident will finally influence more Mariners players to get vaccinated. As Servais pointed out, the fallout could have been even worse, because some players who interacted with the positive-testing person had been vaccinated and thus avoided the 10-day quarantine at a hotel in San Diego that the others are now subjected to.

When the Washington Nationals had 11 players sidelined by either positive tests or COVID protocols at the outset of the season, causing the start of their season to be delayed for five days, most (but not all) of the players at that point opted to receive vaccines. We’ll see if the Mariners are similarly motivated.

I’m not holding my breath.

“I would hope that a few more might jump on board and get the vaccine,” Servais said Friday. “But we can only hope. We can’t force anybody to do it.”

No, they can’t. But they also can’t force anybody to be happy about it.

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