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Column: Chicago Cubs are in the spotlight after Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward reveal their decisions not to get vaccinated
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Column: Chicago Cubs are in the spotlight after Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward reveal their decisions not to get vaccinated

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Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (44) celebrates after hitting a solo home run against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks believes the media eventually will get back inside major-league clubhouses to interview players, even as many have grown comfortable in a media-free environment since the pandemic led to the ban in spring training of 2020.

“You know how we are,” Hendricks said last week in San Diego. “We’d make adjustments to whatever comes our way. When you guys are in there we know, and we adjust to it. When you’re not, we’ve adjusted a little bit and just do our thing.”

But for now, players are able to pick and choose when — and if — they’re available, not having to worry about having a dozen reporters congregate at their lockers before or after a game.

That’s likely what would’ve happened to Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward tonight at Citi Field in New York as the Cubs and New York Mets prepared to meet for the first game of a four-game series.

Rizzo and Heyward are hot topics because they’re the only two Cubs players who’ve publicly revealed they are among the clubhouse contingent who have elected not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. These are the “unvaxxables,” a small group whose personal decisions have contributed to the Cubs’ failure to reach the 85% threshold of fully vaccinated Tier one personnel needed to relax MLB’s COVID-19 protocols.

Matt and Joe preview the series between the Cubs and the Mets.

The backlash on social media was swift. Getting vaccinated is a topic people feel strongly about, and the response of many Cubs fans on Twitter and the internet ranged from disappointment to anger. Likewise, the anti-vaxxers found two new heroes, even as neither Rizzo nor Heyward said they considered themselves anti-vaccine.

At Wrigley Field? The response was “meh.” Was Rizzo booed by anyone this weekend after his revelation on ESPN-1000? If so, it was inaudible.

Heyward, hitting .172 and only 2-for-19 since returning from the injured list in June, said Sunday he wasn’t concerned about any negative fan reaction.

“Public backlash?” he said. “That just means people talk about it. People talk about (expletive) every single day, and none of that plays here for us.”

Heyward said the focus should be on the fans in the stands and not the people in the Cubs dugout, where ignoring MLB’s mask-wearing protocols has been widespread in spite of the league’s threats of fines. No fan will likely get COVID-19 from a player sitting in a dugout, though a person potentially could get it from an unvaccinated and unmasked person sitting next to them at the ballpark.

That’s true. But the focus by the media is on the players because everyone is there to watch them compete. And if a COVID-19 outbreak affects the Cubs’ chances of winning, the unvaxxables in the clubhouse are going to be remembered for their role.

The team’s Beatles-inspired slogan, “Cub Together,” is about to be sorely tested. And the man in the middle is manager David Ross, who is fully vaccinated but forced to still wear a mask.

Without warning, Ross ditched the mask during some games last week, just as many of his players have done for a while. Some of us in the media thought Ross was going rogue, sending a message to MLB that the mask-wearing protocols in the dugout needed to be lifted. If 99.99% of people at Wrigley Field were without masks, why should Ross have to wear one?

“The Outlaw David Ross” had a ring to it. Who better to make a statement that it was silly to make a fully vaccinated person wear a mask after almost everyone else at Wrigley had shed theirs?

Alas, Ross told the media on a teleconference Saturday he was mask-free because he couldn’t find one to match the City Connect uniform the Cubs wore that day.

“That’s my excuse,” he said.

It sounded legit. We all know how Ross feels about potentially committing a fashion faux pas after watching him on “Dancing With the Stars.” But by Sunday afternoon, Ross changed his tune and said he “just forgot” to wear his mask, adding there was no coordinated effort by the Cubs to not follow the protocols.

“I’ll be better today,” Ross sarcastically said. “I appreciate you helping me out there. But I’ll have it on today and I didn’t check with the guys about what was going on. They’re supposed to have their masks on.”

Perhaps Ross should no longer have to wear a mask. But the blame should be on his team for failing to reach the 85% threshold, not the media for asking why he chose to ignore the protocols. MLB was monitoring the situation, according to sources, and has fined individuals previously for violations.

Last fall, MLB issued a warning to the Cubs organization after two team executives ignored mask-wearing protocols during the first postseason game against the Miami Marlins.

Ironically, media members must be fully vaccinated just to get onto the field to talk with players and personnel and also must wear masks or risk being removed. Cubs President Jed Hoyer, who is fully vaccinated, was allowed to go maskless Friday when speaking with a dozen mask-wearing reporters.

“I’ve been really clear about my take on vaccinations,” Hoyer said when declining to directly address Rizzo’s revelation. “I don’t think many people in the game have been more direct than I have about it ... I believe the science was clearly behind (the vaccine), but obviously not everyone agrees with that.”

Obviously.

So here we are, with one of the more vocal proponents of getting vaccinated having to answer for a group of individuals who have refused to get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the Cubs keep winning, with the fully vaxxed and the unvaxxables getting along just fine, with the exception of Rizzo’s recent dugout spat with Willson Contreras in San Francisco.

As “normalcy” returns to baseball, the Cubs remain one of eight teams failing to reach the 85% threshold. Where all of this is headed is anyone’s guess.

Cub Together? Right now?

We’ll see.

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