At 4:45 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, Alex Rodriguez stood up in the ESPN broadcast booth at Yankee Stadium and motioned down to the sun-splashed field, arms outstretched and palms turned up — the universal look of confusion.
The Yankees had hurriedly pulled their players off the field and canceled batting practice, but the visiting Boston Red Sox were stirring. Alex Cora, Boston’s manager, saw Rodriguez and made a slashing motion a few inches in front of his neck. No game tonight.
Major League Baseball had scheduled just one game on Thursday, putting the Yankees and the Red Sox in the national spotlight to start the nominal second half of the season. Then an unwelcome intruder got in the way: the coronavirus.
M.L.B. postponed the game because three Yankees pitchers — Nestor Cortes Jr., Jonathan Loaisiga and Wandy Peralta, each of whom is vaccinated — had tested positive for the coronavirus. General Manager Brian Cashman said three other players had tested positive through multiple rapid tests, and that the team expected those players’ laboratory test results to also come back positive.
The Yankees have reached the 85 percent vaccination rate M.L.B. requires to operate under relaxed Covid protocols, but Cashman said the team had again experienced breakthrough cases, two months after an outbreak of nine cases, mostly within the coaching staff.
“We’re in a very fluid situation right now,” Cashman said. “The vaccines that we encourage everybody to get guarantee not getting hospitalized and not getting death coming from Covid, which is important, but it doesn’t prevent you from contracting Covid; it prevents you from the severe, worst-case-scenario effects of Covid. We’re thankful that we’re vaccinated in most cases — not all cases — and therefore we’re ultimately protected.”
The Red Sox are one of seven M.L.B. teams that have not reached the 85 percent vaccination threshold. Another one of those teams, the Philadelphia Phillies, put four players on the Covid-19 injured list before Sunday’s game in Boston, but that game was played. This one was postponed, the league said, to allow for continued testing and contact tracing.
The Yankees put Loaisiga on the Covid-19 injured list on Saturday in Houston, and he did not travel with the team after that series, which led into the All-Star break. Cortes and Peralta were placed on the list on Thursday.
Cashman did not know the status of the Yankees’ remaining weekend games with the Red Sox, who are scheduled to be in New York through Sunday. Given the two outbreaks the team has now experienced, he said the Yankees would consider a change in protocols.
“We certainly will re-evaluate everything we have done and if there’s anything we can be better at as we move forward, those are fair questions to ask,” Cashman said. “I don’t have an answer for that right now. I know that we rely on a lot of guidance from medical experts and try to implement to the best of our abilities. We have a population of personnel that most are vaccinated, some have chosen not to get vaccinated, they have their reasons for that. We’re certainly trying to create — Major League Baseball is, as well as the New York Yankees — a safe environment to come work and travel in.”
The Yankees sent three players to the All-Star Game in Denver on Tuesday — Aroldis Chapman, Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge — but Cashman would not say if they were among the other three players who had positive results via rapid tests.
He did say that not all of the players who could end up positive were vaccinated. And Boston’s Rafael Devers, who was also at the All-Star Game, told ESPN’s Marly Rivera that he was getting tested for the virus because a Yankee All-Star had tested positive. Cora confirmed to reporters that his team’s five All-Stars — Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Matt Barnes, Nathan Eovaldi and J.D. Martinez — were all getting tested, and that not all of those players had been vaccinated.
“Obviously I’m worried now,” Cora said. “Some of them are vaccinated and some of them are not.”
If a player is vaccinated, he does not have to be tested unless he shows symptoms or is identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive. The more vaccinated players, the less chance of identifying asymptomatic positives — and, critically, the less chance of spreading the virus.
Baseball does a lot of things to ensure player safety. The league requires players to wear batting helmets with a front earflap. Stadiums have padded outfield walls. Every dugout with steps has a railing in front of it. Those are sensible rules, as is the rule that requires reporters to show proof of vaccination to interview players face to face.
But the league cannot force the players to take the vaccine, and players across the league have been wary of publicly revealing their status. Some who are vaccinated have spread doubt among others; Phillies relievers Archie Bradley and Brandon Kintzler have openly wondered if taking the vaccine contributed to subsequent injuries.
“I have people in my life that have made decisions in both ways, and ultimately I respect that,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said. “I’ve chosen to get vaccinated. I’ve encouraged those to. But in the end, that’s a deeply personal decision, in my opinion.”
Tony Clark, the executive director of the players’ union, said at the All-Star Game that while he had gotten the vaccine, he was not pushing all the players to do the same.
“Push? No,” Clark said. “Encourage? We’ve encouraged since the beginning, and we continue to. So if guys ask, we’ll put players directly in touch with experts and make sure they have access to that information. Not push, but encourage.”
Maybe it’s time to start pushing.