Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt have declined to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and as a result, are not legally permitted to cross the border between the United States and Canada, where St. Louis will play two games against the Toronto Blue Jays this week.
The Cardinals entered the All-Star break half a game behind the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the National League Central.
“Absolutely, you want to win the division,” Arenado told reporters including Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 14. “I don’t want to win the wild card anymore. Obviously, you get to the playoffs, it’s great. If we get in, great. But you want to win the division. It’s important to win the division. I’ve never won it. I would like to be a part of that.”
“I’ve tried to talk to as many doctors, medical professionals as I could and figure out as much as I could, and for me just decided that the potential risks outweigh the potential benefits of doing it,” Goldschmidt said after Sunday’s loss in Cincinnati. “It stinks that I can’t play in Toronto and can’t play these next couple games. I hate that part of it, but that’s unfortunately a consequence.”
“I just feel healthy. I don’t feel like I needed to get it,” Arenado said. “I’m not trying to do a political stand here like I’m a spokesperson for this stuff. I’m not. I’m just choosing to do what’s best for me and my family. And I mean no harm, but it’s unfortunate I’ve got to miss two games.”
Catcher Austin Romine also declined vaccination, and was unavailable for comment.
Reliever Johan Oviedo, who is Cuban, was unable to have his passport renewed, and is unable to travel to Canada with the team. Oviedo said he plans to travel to Miami on Monday and visit the Canadian consulate there in hopes they can provide him with the necessary travel documents.
“I think these are all personal decisions,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “For anybody that pays attention to the news, or what’s happening in our country, a lot of these issues can be quite polarizing. And what I’m hoping to do is avoid that polarization with our club, or inside the clubhouse.”
“I am 100% sure that it is a non-issue,” among their teammates, manager Oliver Marmol said.
COVID-19 vaccines, despite misinformation to the contrary, are safe and important tools in the fight against a deadly disease which has wrought all manner of havoc over the last three years.
Drs. Lisa Maragakis and Gabor David Kelen of Johns Hopkins, quoting the Centers for Disease Control, have written that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are, “very safe and very good at preventing serious or fatal cases of COVID-19. The risk of serious side effects associated with these vaccines is very small.”
Upon arrival in Cincinnati to open the 2021 season, the Cardinals’ traveling party was offered the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. On Monday, March 29, 2021, more than 85% of those with the team received their vaccination. Based on the known size of the group, fewer than ten people declined (at the time) to be vaccinated.
One person who was on the trip but temporarily declined was outfielder Tyler O’Neill, who spoke at length with the News-Democrat about the decision he and his now-wife, in coordination with team medical personnel, made to be vaccinated over last year’s All-Star Break. The team’s chief medical practitioner, Dr. Brian Mahaffey, answered questions for the couple over the course of several months, providing any and all necessary guidance to ease their concerns.
Arenado and Goldschmidt, evidently, were not persuaded.
Some of the consequences will be direct. In the first two games in Cincinnati, manager Oliver Marmol penciled Tyler O’Neill into the lineup ahead of Goldschmidt and Arenado, largely in the hopes that his placement there would guarantee pitches to hit and solidify a season in need of spark.
“That was the hope,” Marmol said Saturday night of his lineup design. “(O’Neill)’s definitely a threat when he’s feeling right, so that could be a nice 2-3-4 punch.”
Now, not. Wait and see.
Arenado’s future, border policy
At the end of this season, Arenado will be faced with deciding whether or not to opt in to the five years and $144 million remaining on his contract. Whether he does — and he confirmed Friday night he’s not yet made a decision — will be largely shaped by his perception of the free agent market. Is there a bigger deal out there? Is it in a place where he wants to play? How much will those answers be limited by continued limited availability, and would potential employers shy away due to his decision making process?
Criticism has long been levied against the border policy, which is of course an indication that the prohibition on travel was long understood. The schedule has not been changed in a way that affects travel to Canada since its publication. While some believed that the prohibition on unvaccinated cross-border would be lifted by this point in the calendar, that was never a guarantee.
Whatever their reasons for declining vaccination, and whatever their veracity may be, it is unavoidably true that Arenado and Goldschmidt’s decision leaves their team without its two most important players during a series — short though it is — which could ultimately determine whether the division title he so craves finishes within his grasp.
That, too, is an unavoidable fact. Both made an informed decision not to be vaccinated, and in doing so, necessarily decided that their right to refuse was more important than their obligation to be available to their team. They have absolute freedom to choose, and consequence accompanies choices.
One of those consequences is healthy skepticism of their words. It is “important,” by Arenado’s reckoning, to win the division. It would be difficult — if not impossible — to read his decision to remain unvaccinated as anything other than a value judgment that winning the division is less important to him than this particular choice.
Arenado’s words carry weight, and echo through the front office. But at the time he made his forceful call for reinforcements and sounded the alarm about the inadequacy of a Wild Card finish, the decision makers already knew that he’d made his choice to take two games off.
‘Time will tell’
It’s hard to imagine, then, that they took him particularly seriously. That’s Arenado’s own doing, and no one else’s.
“I don’t know that answer. I guess time will tell,” Mozeliak said when asked what the reaction to the two missing the series would be inside the clubhouse. “I think, you know, most people respect what they do on the field, and what they do in the clubhouse.
“My assumption or my guess would be that even though some people may view this as disappointing, I still think they’re gonna have a lot of political capital in the clubhouse and still be respected.”