MLB to relax virus protocols when 85% on field vaccinated

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NEW YORK — Card games, car pools and eating at restaurants may be back in the major leagues later this season. Trips to church and sponsor events may return, too.

Mask use would be dropped from dugouts and bullpens, and electronic tracing devices would be eliminated when 85% of major league players and primary field staff are vaccinated against the coronavirus. Communal clubhouse video would return before and after games. Pool tables would be restored, along with team saunas.

A three-page memorandum from Major League Baseball and the players’ association sent to players and staff on Monday and obtained by The Associated Press also stated “all players and staff are strongly encouraged to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines when eligible.”

“For purposes of this memo, individuals are considered `fully vaccinated’ two weeks after receiving their second dose of a two-dose vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) or two weeks after their first dose of a single dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson),” the memo stated.

Not many players have been vaccinated, according to MLB, but it expects the pace to increase after teams return to their home cities from spring training. Opening day is Thursday.

The St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros said Monday their players will be offered vaccines before openers and the San Francisco Giants said some of their players already had received vaccination shots.

MLB’s Tier 1 restrictions in place since last summer cover players, managers, coaches, bullpen catchers, team physicians, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and strength and conditioning coaches.

While clubhouse video rules would loosen before and after games, in-game use will remain covered by rules restricting in-game use to MLB-issued iPads with catcher’s signals blocked, regulations put in place in response to the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal.

Once the 85% threshold is reached, fully vaccinated players and staff would be able to eat and drink on flights. They would be able to gather in indoor spaces such as hotels without masks or social distancing as long as non-vaccinated people aren’t present, and they would be able to carpool or use Uber or Lyft. The relaxation would not apply to gatherings in group facilities at ballparks, such as clubhouses.

Fully vaccinated people who have close contact with someone with COVID-19 would not have to quarantine unless they exhibit symptoms.

Vaccinated players and staff would have the option to reduce PCR saliva testing to twice weekly, similar to Tier 2 staff, such as front office and clubhouse employees, owners and groundskeepers.

Family members who are fully vaccinated and children who are not vaccinated would be able to stay with players and staff in hotel rooms during road trips, though MLB and the union cautioned that the Centers for Disease Control advised not to use commercial travel and to stay home unless necessary. Families also would be able to sit anywhere in ballparks and not be restricted to pods, subject to local laws and policies.

Players and staff would be able to meet outdoors with anyone on road trips, eliminating the restriction limiting them to household and family. They also would no longer be required to let club compliance officers know when they are leaving team hotels, and they would be allowed to stay at personal homes on road trips without a need for family quarantines or testing.

While attending religious services would be allowed, attending outdoor services would be encouraged.

Indians manager Terry Francona, who recently received his second vaccine, was pleased there weren’t many issues associated with the coronavirus during camp.

“You really haven’t heard a whole lot about it,” said Francona, who was aware of the memo but said he hadn’t read through it. “In the beginning, I think everybody had their hopes up that when we get here you could just go back to normal. It took a few days for everybody to realize that’s not the way it’s going to be.

“The rules are in place. We’ve told them, whether you agree or disagree, if you have a positive, you’re going to get sent home and probably take somebody with you.”

Royals fire manager Mike Matheny after 65-97 end to season

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred were fired by the Kansas Cty Royals on Wednesday night, shortly after the struggling franchise finished the season 65-97 with a listless 9-2 loss to the Cleveland Guardians.

The Royals had exercised their option on Matheny’s contract for 2023 during spring training, when the club hoped it was turning the corner from also-ran to contender again. But plagued by poor pitching, struggles from young position players and failed experiments with veterans, the Royals were largely out of playoff contention by the middle of summer.

The disappointing product led owner John Sherman last month to fire longtime front office executive Dayton Moore, the architect of back-to-back American League champions and the 2015 World Series title team. Moore was replaced by one of his longtime understudies, J.J. Picollo, who made the decision to fire Matheny hours after the season ended.

Matheny became the fifth big league manager to be fired this year.

Philadelphia’s Joe Girardi was replaced on June 3 by Rob Thomson, who engineered a miraculous turnaround to get the Phillies into the playoffs as a wild-card team. The Angels replaced Joe Maddon with Phil Nevin four days later, Toronto’s Charlie Montoyo was succeeded by John Schneider on July 13 and the Rangers’ Chris Woodward by Tony Beasley on Aug. 15.

In addition, Miami’s Don Mattingly said late last month that he will not return next season.