TAMPA, Fla. — Some Mets and Yankees players may not be able to play in New York when the 2022 Major League Baseball season begins next month as the city mandates vaccinations.
According to a New York City regulation enacted Dec. 27, individuals who work in person or interact with the public through business dealings must demonstrate that “they have received a COVID-19 vaccine.” Proof of immunization must show that a worker is fully vaccinated, has received a single dose vaccine or, if only the first vaccination of a two dose vaccine has been administered, a schedule for the second dose must be demonstrated within 45 days of the first.
While Mayor Eric Adams eased some vaccine requirements this month, he left the private sector mandate in place. According to the mayor’s office, the regulation applies to the Mets and Yankees, whose home stadiums are Citi Field in Queens and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
The Yankees open the season on April 7 with a home game against the Boston Red Sox. The Mets’ home game is April 15 against the Arizona Diamondbacks. With those games a few weeks away, the mayor’s office said it couldn’t predict whether circumstances might change in the meantime.
The mandate has been a point of contention for Nets guard Kyrie Irving and NBA Irving has only played 19 of the team’s 69 games in part because he is not vaccinated against Covid-19 and the regulation has prevented him from playing home games. Irving is allowed to participate in street games where cities do not have vaccination mandates. He set a single-game franchise record with 60 points in a 150-108 win over Orlando on Tuesday, but he won’t be eligible to play the Nets’ next three games.
(The private sector mandate grants an exception for visiting professional athletes and anyone accompanying them, as well as performing artists and college athletes.)
On Monday, the NBA fined the Nets $50,000 for allowing Irving to enter the team’s locker room during Sunday’s game against the Knicks. While he was allowed to attend the game, he was not allowed to be in the team’s facilities at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
If the city mandate doesn’t change by the time MLB teams start their home games, the Mets would probably be hit harder than the Yankees.
By the end of last season, the Mets were among six teams (out of 30 in MLB) to have failed to meet the league’s 85 percent immunization threshold, which has allowed teams to relax pandemic protocols. The Yankees reached vaccination threshold but suffered multiple virus outbreaks — many of them breakthrough cases.
When asked Tuesday if he was vaccinated given the city’s mandate, Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge said, “I’m so focused on just getting those first few games of spring training, so I think we’re going to cross that bridge, when the time is right. But right now so much could change. So I’m not too concerned about that at the moment.”
The judge was placed on the league’s Covid-19-related injured list after attending the 2021 All-Star Game in Denver in July and testing positive for the coronavirus. He went on to miss nine games. Due to other positive cases, potential exposures and testing, the league postponed the Yankees’ first game from the All-Star break on July 15 against Boston, which failed to meet the vaccination threshold.
The Red Sox, which had a significant virus outbreak last season, was the only one of the 10 postseason teams last year not to have reached that mark. Since arriving at spring training, Red Sox players such as Xander Bogaerts and Christian Arroyo have told reporters they have since been vaccinated.
MLB and the players’ union declined to comment Tuesday, as did the Mets.
“On behalf of the Yankees, Randy Levine is working with City Hall and all other appropriate officials on this matter,” a Yankees spokesman said in a statement, referring to the team’s president, a former deputy mayor of the city. “We will have no further comment at this time.”
Over the weekend, Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters he was concerned his players wouldn’t be able to play in Canada, saying, “We have at least a couple of guys left who aren’t vaccinated.”
Canada’s border restrictions currently allow unvaccinated foreign visitors to enter the country without specific exemptions. And a special status granted by the Canadian government to unvaccinated athletes that allowed them to cross last year ended in January.
When MLB and the union negotiated a new employment contract, they also agreed that any player who is unable to attend games due to state regulations based on their immunization status may be temporarily placed on the banned list, where pay and service time will be lost. Service time determines players’ eligibility for salary arbitration and free agency.
The Yankees play in the same division as the Blue Jays and will play nine games in Toronto this season.
Despite initial resistance from many players last year, the number of vaccinations in the MLB rose steadily. By the end of the season, 88 percent of all players and key staff were fully vaccinated. Still, during the season, some team leaders were openly frustrated with their players’ reluctance to get vaccinated.
Vaccination rates are higher in other professional leagues, such as the NBA and NHL, both of which also have teams based in Canada.