With the news that broke Wednesday night of this week, an alarming pattern that has reared its head repeatedly over the years hit critical mass. It is no longer possible to ignore each as an individual event, but we now must see them as a pattern of behavior among the leaders within the organization.
No one in the Kansas City Royals organization knows what words mean.
We’re all familiar with dumb jock stereotypes, but you wouldn’t normally expect those stereotypes to extend to an entire professional sports franchise. Especially since those who don’t regularly occupy the dugout are rarely viewed as being jocks. But when it comes to the Kansas City Royals, there is equal opportunity stupidity.
Then-General Manager Dayton Moore infamously attempted to ban this word during the 2018/2019 off-season. Despite fielding a team that had just lost more than 104 games, Mr. Moore did not want to “rebuild.” He just wanted to win. Of course, the word rebuild means to build something again after it has been destroyed. The 2015 championship squad was good and destroyed by the 2018 off-season; almost all of the stars had departed for other clubs and were playing poorly to boot. The club needed to be rebuilt, and Moore’s refusal to use the word didn’t change that.
Earlier this season, Team President Dayton Moore took a lot of heated inquiries for the team’s firing of hitting coach Terry Bradshaw but continued refusal to relieve pitching coach Cal Eldred of his duties. Dayton Moore insisted that there was accountability but that it “runs out” and that that’s what happened with Bradshaw. He also insisted that he was ultimately the one accountable for the pitching struggles of the team. Of course, accountability doesn’t run out if you’re doing it right. It just sometimes requires you to be removed from your job for lack of performance. And yet, somehow, despite Dayton Moore’s continued failures to develop a big league pitching staff and claiming of the blame, he got promoted last year. That doesn’t sound like accountability to me.
Not long ago, John Sherman announced that the status quo was no longer sufficient for the Royals. The status quo is a Latin phrase that means “the existing state of affairs,” And yet, absolutely nothing has changed with the club since then. Either Mr. Sherman doesn’t know the definition of the phrase or he didn’t mean what he said. Maybe he thinks that there isn’t enough room for statues at Kauffman Stadium and hopes to use that to justify his decision to move the club downtown in the coming years. If so, he’s doubly wrong.
“Personal Choice” and “Teamwork”
The majority of the Royals players who spoke about their refusal to get a vaccine cited that it was a personal choice to do so. There are two problems with this. The first is that it is a tautology; of course, it was a personal choice. What else could it have been? The second is that because it is a tautology, it doesn’t explain or excuse their behavior in the slightest.
The fact of the matter is that their choice affects everyone around them. Most notably, the team. Whit Merrifield as much as admitted during his own interview that if he had a chance to play on a winning club that he would probably get vaccinated. This told all of his teammates two things: He doesn’t care about their health or the health of their families, and he also doesn’t think they’re good enough to justify putting in his full effort toward winning games. I imagine Whit’s focus was on making sure teams still knew he had value as a trade target, not on making the Royals feel like he couldn’t be bothered to give his all. Still, the latter message is an inescapable result of the former all the same.
This decision affects others’ health
A lot of people who refuse to get vaccinated cite the fact that it’s possible to catch COVID still and even transmit it after having been vaccinated. They treat the fact that the vaccines are not 100% effective as a flaw instead of allowing that SOME protection is better than NO protection. This is, of course, a flawed worldview. And one that doesn’t extend to seemingly any other area of their lives. A batting helmet does not prevent you from getting concussed if you get beaned in the head with a fastball 100% of the time, but they still wear the helmets. Those elbow and shin guards don’t completely protect them from all pain and injury if a pitch or foul ball hits them in those spots, but they still wear them. Gloves don’t guarantee that they’ll catch the ball, but they still use those, too.
The other thing is that the more people who are vaccinated, the harder it is to continue spreading the disease. If you are vaccinated and catch COVID, you are less likely to die, less likely to suffer severe symptoms, less likely to get Long Covid, and less likely to transmit it to anyone else. The vast majority of players are in the low-risk categories, but what about their friends and family members? And low-risk doesn’t equal no-risk, so they’re comfortable with some wiggle room there but not at the other end.
This also feels like a good moment to point out why pro-choice people are often anti-choice when it comes to vaccines. It ultimately comes down to having a responsibility to avoid messing around with the health and safety of others. Many in the US like to talk about all of our freedoms, but they never want to discuss the responsibilities that come with that freedom. One of those responsibilities is to avoid allowing our freedoms to impinge upon the freedoms of others. When you choose not to get vaccinated or to wear a mask indoors, you are impinging on the freedom of others to be in that space safely. And no one has the right to put other people at risk for the sake of their own comfort.
This decision affects others’ livelihoods
Ignore for the moment that the Royals aren’t very good; the individuals still have things to play for. The better they play, the more likely they are to get paid more money in the future. Because baseball is such a team-oriented sport, the better their teammates play, the better an individual player’s stats can look. Bobby Witt Jr. and Vinnie Pasquantino are going to have fewer RBI opportunities without Andrew Benintendi and MJ Melendez hitting ahead of them in the lineup. Even after the Toronto series, refusing to get the shot puts them more at risk of being placed on the IL for illness or close contact, making the team worse and damaging the opportunities for their teammates to excel.
Additionally, it is now clear the Royals are nowhere near the 85% vaccination threshold necessary to allow for reduced travel restrictions on the team per MLB rules. Because these men have chosen to refuse an effective safety measure, their teammates have had their own freedoms restricted through no fault of their own.
And besides that, what if the Royals had been good this year? Sure, Whit Merrifield might have eventually gotten vaccinated in that scenario but there’s no indication the other nine would have. What if the Royals had had to go to Toronto for a playoff series without a third of their roster including what one could have expected to be their entire outfield, their top two choices at backup catcher, and 40% of their starting rotation. I think it would be unreasonable to expect the Royals to win such a series. And if they did win I can only imagine the amount of conflict that would arise in the clubhouse over what winning such a series without so many players meant for the rest of them competitively, morale-wise, and in terms of how to split up the playoff compensation. Meaning even if the team had met the front office’s competitive expectations, things could have completely come off the rails at the last second because these ten players prioritized their “personal decisions” over accomplishing the team’s goals.
“Champions off the field”
Mere weeks ago, with full knowledge of the vaccination status of the players on his team, Dayton Moore announced that, while the team’s choices had almost certainly led to fewer wins on the field, he was content because he felt they were producing champions off the field. I’m sorry, Mr. Moore, but men who refuse to look out for their teammates or community members because of junk science or personal discomfort are not champions off the field. They’re assholes. The very opposite of the thing you claimed to be successfully producing while taking all those unnecessary losses.
Credit where credit is due
Dayton Moore gave an interview Thursday afternoon during the first hour of The Show with Soren Petro. I have to give credit to him for the strong stance he took on vaccination during the interview. He insisted that everyone in high levels of leadership on the Royals are vaccinated. (He had to make this caveat because, as we also found out Thursday afternoon, pitching coach Cal Eldred is among those who are not vaccinated.) He also made a point of how disappointed he and the other leaders on the team were in the players for not being vaccinated, including owner John Sherman. He also noted that they had an opportunity to demote some guys and put some other guys on the injured list; this would have obscured how many players were unvaccinated and protected the privacy and salaries of those players. Moore said that they instead “chose to do the right thing” and keep them on the roster. The implication would appear to be that he wanted to hold those players accountable for the decisions they had made.
Moore also indicated that he was very unhappy with Whit Merrifield’s comments about his willingness to get a vaccination. He also somewhat dodged a question Petro asked about whether Merrifield’s injury was somewhat conveniently timed and whether Whit might have been hoping to go on the IL and keep his pay and hide his unvaccinated status from the public. Moore insisted that Whit was truly hurt but also said that almost anyone could justifiably be placed on the IL at this time of year and that Whit had played through some of it. The former seems to defend Whit, but the latter leaves open the possibility that the rumors may have some merit.
Unfortunately, even with Moore’s apparently authentic frustration and candidness about how important the vaccines are, the team was still apparently ineffective at convincing these players that they needed to get the shots. It may not be fair to blame them for being unable to convince a group that is notoriously difficult to convince, but baseball has never been a fair sport.
The Kansas City Royals have long been the butt of jokes. At least the jokes used to just be about how bad the team was at baseball. Some of those were pretty funny. Then the jokes became about how the team seemed to be more focused on religion than on winning baseball games. Now the jokes will be about how midwest yokels don’t understand science and about how perhaps the most influential player on the team refused to take his teammates' feelings or health into account while making decisions that affected them and how he said he’d make a different choice if only it would get him on a better team.
The jokes just aren’t funny anymore.