J.T. Realmuto will be docked more than a quarter-million dollars in pay. His team, clinging to a percentage-point lead for the final National League playoff berth with a hard-fought, multi-team battle looming in the months ahead, will miss him and three of his teammates terribly for two games against a formidable opponent.
But the Philadelphia Phillies catcher won’t let the Canadian government take away his right to refuse a vaccine that’s saved millions of lives.
Realmuto’s stubborn streak once compelled him to catch an astounding 82% of his team’s games in 2019, but his refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination will knock him out of two games against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Realmuto, third baseman Alec Bohm and starting pitchers Aaron Nola and Kyle Gibson all will be placed on the restricted list before the club travels to face the Blue Jays, a club that’s fully vaccinated because the Canadian government requires it for citizens leaving and returning to the country.
For vaccine-hesitant major league players on teams based in the USA, it’s been a cost-benefit analysis: Receive the vaccine, or miss out on significant pay and two to five games to ensure their interpretation of science is respected.
In Realmuto’s case, the consequences are both personal and widespread: Realmuto will be docked some $260,000 of his $24 million salary this season for missing the two games. The Phillies have a half-game lead on St. Louis for the third and final NL wild-card spot in what should be a six-team shootout for three berths over the second half. And they’re already missing reigning MVP Bryce Harper from a lineup wracked with inconsistency.
“When it came time to decide whether I needed the vaccine or not, talked with a couple doctors I knew, told them my story, and really decided I didn’t need it,” Realmuto told reporters after the Phillies’ loss Monday night in St. Louis. “I wasn’t going to take it basically because I was told to.
“I’m not going to let Canada tell me what I do and don’t put in my body for a little bit of money. It’s just not worth it.”
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While the coronavirus shut down the industry and forced teams into a shortened, tenuous 60-game season in 2020, the Phillies’ battle with it has endured, thanks in part to vaccine hesitancy. In 2021, more than half the club was estimated to be unvaccinated, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Bohm, unvaccinated, was placed on the COVID IL during a key stretch of the season and the team’s pitching ranks were thinned when pitcher Bailey Falter, who was unvaccinated, was expected to step into the rotation but instead spent 12 days battling COVID-19 in isolation and lost eight pounds.
This year, Falter was optioned to the minor leagues before the club’s trip to Toronto; according to The Athletic, other absences on the Toronto trip were mitigated through options and injuries.
Now, Realmuto and a gaggle of Phillies — the four missing this trip, the others dispatched before they became an issue — are presumably rooting for a handful of outcomes. Of course, a couple of Philly wins in Toronto.
Should they lose a game or two, they may have to wonder what-if should the Phillies narrowly miss a playoff berth. And any unvaccinated NL player must certainly hope the Blue Jays fail to make the World Series — and turn vaccination into a decision affecting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
For now, nothing has forced Realmuto to consider his stance.
“My teammates know how I feel about them and how badly I want to be out there with them,” Realmuto said Monday. “It’s just unfortunate I’m not able to make the trip. I’m a healthy 31-year-old professional athlete. I didn’t feel the need to get it. I’ve had COVID a couple times, super mild symptoms back when it first came out.
“When it came time to decide whether I needed the vaccine or not, talked with a couple doctors I knew, told them my story, and really decided I didn’t need it.”
He apparently doesn’t need the $250,000-plus, either.