I typically shy away from evaluating players based on their perceived effort, but let me be abundantly clear–a desire to win is absolutely a relevant factor in evaluating athletic performance. The problem is that generally, it is not possible to quantify effort, and the closest attempts to doing so (usually just pointing out that David Eckstein or whomever is relatively small for a professional athlete and jumping to conclusions) are sloppily conducted, at best. By focusing on statistics, it allows us to examine what actually manifests–the results. A player hitting 50 home runs in a season, for instance, does not necessarily mean that he has some superhuman amount of Want To, but it does mean that he at least has enough so that hitting 50 home runs is possible.
It is beyond idiotic to look at Yordan Álvarez, the offensive juggernaut who is the starting designated hitter for the Houston Astros, or Shane McClanahan, the Tampa Bay Rays’ Cy Young candidate who started last week’s All-Star Game, and see two guys who were not blessed with incredible physical gifts, but it would also be ridiculous to not credit their abilities to manifest their natural talent into the fully-formed athletic wonders they are today. Álvarez was once such an expendable prospect that the Los Angeles Dodgers traded him away for a relief pitcher with a 6.89 ERA. McClanahan was a mere twenty-sixth round pick coming out of high school who went to the non-powerhouse University of South Florida baseball program to hone his craft. But even these examples of development are not necessarily a reflection of effort–they could just be examples of somebody coming into their physical prime slightly later.
But what is a reflection of effort came when Yordan Álvarez hit two home runs for a 1.371 OPS over a three-game series in late April and early May. Effort turned into results when Shane McClanahan went seven innings, allowing just one run and striking out ten batters, on July 2. The effort was not because their results were favorable. The effort was reflected by the fact that these games happened in Canada, and Yordan Álvarez and Shane McClanahan cared enough about both their own personal success and their team’s successes because they got vaccinated for COVID-19 and thus were permitted to enter Canada to face the Toronto Blue Jays. They were there for their teams. The same cannot be said for Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Austin Romine, whom it was announced would not be available for the team’s upcoming series in Toronto.
There are several extremely good reasons to get the COVID-19 vaccine, not the least of which is the ability to travel to countries which mandate it, but more importantly, there are a lack of particularly compelling reasons, barring relatively rare medical exceptions, to not get the vaccine. Speaking from my own personal experience, it may be the single least intrusive shot I have ever received–compared to even a flu shot, it causes minimal physical pain, and this is coming from a somewhat doughy and quite out of shape guy; I can’t even imagine how little a COVID shot hurts if you are actually physically strong, as even the most out-of-shape professional athletes are. The most common side effect is not feeling well the next day on a low-grade level, but which could easily be mitigated by getting your vaccine prior to an off-day (or, you know, during the months-long off-season). Even if it is rare for somebody in as good of shape as a professional athlete to get truly sick from contracting COVID-19, it is not unprecedented–Eduardo Rodríguez, then of the Boston Red Sox, missed the entire 2020 season due to myocarditis, a heart condition caused by his bout with the disease. And that is not even considering that reducing your chances of contracting the disease reduces the chances that somebody who is more vulnerable will, though noting how it helps others to people unwilling to even help out their teammates by coming to work next week may not be the best fitted talking point.
But this week’s upcoming series against the Toronto Blue Jays underscores the extraordinarily obvious reason for a Major League Baseball player to get a COVID-19 vaccine–it means he can play in Toronto. Given that the Blue Jays currently sit in a playoff position, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that Canada will play host to World Series games this season. Any baseball player who is serious about competing for a title should be willing to move Heaven and Earth to play meaningful late October baseball. That a player would not care enough to qualify for these games is inconceivable. No, a series in late July may not quite have that immediate gravitas, but these two upcoming games still count. For a team locked into a tight division race, hoping to secure a postseason berth, the entire season could easily come down to a difference of a game or two. And if the St. Louis Cardinals squander their games in Toronto, to paraphrase Vito Corleone, I’m gonna blame some of the people not in this room.
There will surely be a player or two who struggles over the upcoming series in Toronto. This is how baseball works. But remember–for all of his shortcomings as a player, he was there. And the most important ability in sports is availability. And Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Austin Romine were not nursing injuries, nor being held back for strategic reasons–they were simply not trying hard enough. If Iván Herrera goes 0-for-5 with five strikeouts in the Cardinals’ first game in Toronto, I will surely be annoyed, but I can at least say that he tried. Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Austin Romine are not trying hard enough, and if this impacts the way they are perceived for the rest of their Cardinals career, then I can’t say that they didn’t deserve it.