Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have the freedom to reject the Covid-19 vaccination. As an opener, let me say this: I don’t dispute that, and I respect their right to make the decision.
That doesn’t mean I have to agree with the decision. I have the right to be disappointed and/or frustrated. I have the right to question their logic and wonder if their personal no-vax policy is fair to teammates who received the vaccine — in part because of loyalty to the team concept. And to help the team win as many games as possible.
At this stage of the Covid experience, I have no desire to demonize those who disagree with my personal view on vaccinations. I’m fully vaccinated and am happy with my decisions. If you want to belittle me for that … fine with me. I don’t care.
But when two prominent STL athletes are standing in the Covid-19 noise funnel, with everyone shouting from their side of the issue, Arenado and Goldschmidt have stirred up the locals. And this one is getting ugly.
This will blow over. Please understand that. And if the Cardinals make it to October, Arenado and Goldschmidt will be the driving forces behind the success.
What matters is that the Cardinals use the Aug. 2 trade deadline to improve the team around Arenado and Goldschmidt. The top priority is starting pitching.
What doesn’t matter as much — despite the crazed arousal on social media — are the two games in Toronto in a regular season that still has two-plus months to go.
Arenado and Goldschmidt won’t be available for the Tuesday and Wednesday contests in Toronto. Given their value, their absence reduces STL’s probability of winning those games, but the Cardinals have lost plenty of times this season with both players in the lineup. Anything can happen in a two-game quickie of a series.
As a matter of background: Canada – just as the U.S. – requires travelers entering its borders to be inoculated against Covid. MLB teams based in the U.S. are at a disadvantage, having to play games in Toronto without the presence of players that declined to be vaccinated. But the Blue Jays also have 81 road games this season, and they’re able to travel to the U.S. with a complete, fully vaccinated roster. The Blue Jays may be more limited at the Aug. 2 trade deadline by having to decline trades for players that are opposed to inoculation.
The policy is the policy, like it or not. I am not interested in rehashing the debate; you are free to click in to your preferred cable-network programs that accommodate your views on this.
I’ll simply state that I don’t understand anti-science positions … but I don’t understand a lot of things in today’s America.
As my friend Will Leitch wrote at Medium:
“People make wrong decisions that put themselves in physical danger all the time. At a certain level, if it doesn’t affect me or the larger collective, I can’t do anything about it. I can’t be angry at them anymore, and you shouldn’t be either. It’s their problem, not yours. The best we can do is protect ourselves and hope others will protect themselves. If they don’t, if they’re too foolish to, that’s on them. But it’s not affecting us the way it once did. Which might be a sign for us to maybe let it go.”
I agree with Will’s opinion. But I’d like to pivot and narrow the focus to the baseball part of this.
In an attempt to make more concise points, I’ll use the countdown style …
1) I don’t “hate” Arenado or Goldschmidt for making their decisions. And I won’t hold it against them going forward. They’re fantastic players. All-Star players. Goldschmidt is the late-July favorite to win the NL’s MVP award, and Arenado will undoubtedly receive plenty of MVP votes. They’re willingness to miss two games at Toronto is regrettable, but this mediocre team and its neglectful front office wouldn’t even have a chance to win the NL Central or make the playoffs without them. As of now Goldschmidt has played in 96 percent of his team’s 97 games. Arenado has played in 91% of the games. The Cardinals still have 65 games to play. Barring injury, Arenado and Goldschmidt will each end up playing around 95% of the games. That’s certainly enough to do their share to pull a so-so team into the postseason. The Cardinals could use them in Toronto. Sure. The Cardinals could also use a refurbished rotation. Teams win games. Teams lose games. Arenado and Goldschmidt are terrific but they are not undefeated. And even when they do well, it doesn’t ensure a St. Louis win. Goldschmidt slammed four homers in three days in Cincinnati over the weekend. Did the Cardinals win the series? No.
2) The teammate part of this bothers me. All Goldschmidt-Arenado teammates that have been members of the organization for the entirety of the 2022 season are fully vaccinated. Do we really believe that all are pro-vax? Or that they were comfortable with being vaccinated? I have to assume at least some of the Cardinals had private misgivings about being vaccinated but went forward out of respect for their teammates. If other Cardinals put their anxieties (or opposition) aside for the overall good of the team, it’s a bad look for two star leaders to break away from the group they’re supposedly leading – especially if the so-called leaders are aware of the unselfish decisions made by teammates on a touchy, sensitive subject. That part stinks. Oh, it’s absolutely possible to house differing opinions in the same clubhouse; most fellows are entirely professional in these matters. I think the Cardinals will handle it well. But that doesn’t change the reality here: two leaders separated themselves from teammates who believed that the vax was the right way to go.
Going into 2021, with so many Covid-related rules and regulations in place, the Cardinals players made an admirable effort to reach the minimum vaccination standard — 80 percent of players and staff — to ease restrictions on travel and make it easier to move around without hassle. I would imagine that a good many players agreed to being vaccinated as a selfless gesture of support for teammates — even those opposed to the vax including Arenado and Goldschmidt. Those players put teammates first. So much for reciprocation. But if their current teammates are cool with this, then the vax reax will fade soon. Not that I expect any teammates to speak out. Won’t happen. The organization will work hard to tamp down on potential controversy within the roster. And that’s fine.
3) I’ve been skeptical about the usual all-for-one and and one-for-all narrative weaved by the Cardinals and many in the media. This episode only confirms such skepticism. It’s been a standard, almost obligatory, cliche for many years now: the St. Louis clubhouse is the happiest spot on earth, a habitat of unity and camaraderie filled with a close band of brothers that pull together, help a teammate in need, and have each other’s backs. Or something like that.
4) Ah, but to buy up that syrup, you also have to ignore the actions of the unofficial team captain, Yadier Molina. He arrived late to spring training and was terribly out of shape. He went on the IL with knee pain on June 21 and bolted to Puerto Rico, leaving teammates and management wondering what was going on. Some made a public appeal for Molina to return and be with the team – saying that the team needed him. That appeal was ignored until recently. And then there was manager Oli Marmol pulling center fielder Harrison Bader from a game for non-hustle. And relief pitcher Genesis Cabrera brazenly disrespecting the rookie manager in full view during a pitching change on July 15. And now this, the vax split. It’s been a weird season, with a lot going on … moments and happenings that go against the lazy “We Are Family” narrative.
5) And then there was Arenado’s push on management to add “pieces” to improve the Cardinals. Arenado threw down by saying: “I don’t want to win the wild card anymore. Obviously, you get to the playoffs it’s great. If we get in, great. But you want to win the division. It’s important to win the division. I’ve never won it. I would like to be a part of that.”
6) I appreciated and agreed with what Arenado said and praised him for speaking out. But in wake of his decision to withdraw from the Toronto series, his comments must be viewed in a different context. He can’t have it both ways, urging management to do what it takes to win the division, and emphasizing his desire to win the division – only to weaken his team by rejecting the vax after his teammates did their part to give the Cardinals their best chance to win in Toronto.
7) Arenado’s urgent tone sounded good at the time, but his vax-decision actions didn’t match his words. And by bypassing the Toronto series, Arenado and Goldschmidt undercut the recent, fiery message delivered by Marmol who put himself out there by passionately restating the team’s goals.
“Making the playoffs is great. It’s not the expectation,” Marmol told Derrick Goold of STLtoday. “The expectation is what happened in 2011. That’s it. There’s nothing underneath that. You’re one or zero. You either win the whole thing or you don’t. In my eyes, being above .500 means nothing. You either win or you don’t. There are 29 losers. There’s one winner. That’s it.”
Agreed. But the seriousness of the manager’s proclamation was diluted when his two best players declined to post up for the series in Toronto. So much for the team leaders backing the emphatic mission statement made by the rookie manager.
8) I’m going to defend Arrnado and Goldschmidt on a couple of aspects of this. I’m already disgusted by some of the bullspit out there, so let’s get into the relative points …
(8a) If the Cardinals finish in second place in the NL Central and/or fail to qualify for the postseason, it won’t be because of Arenado and Goldschmidt. And it definitely won’t be because they voluntarily defaulted on playing two games in Canada. This isn’t the NFL and a 17-game schedule; MLB teams play 162 in the regular season. To classify these two games in Toronto as a make-or-break moment in the season is ludicrous. It’s ridiculous.
9) Just a reminder that the Cardinals have been shut out 11 times this season. Goldy and Nado were there. The Cards are losers on the road (22-26) and have done poorly (22-29) against teams with winning records. Goldy and Nado were there. After embarrassing themselves in Cincinnati, they are 2-6-2 in their last 10 series overall … and 0-5-1 in their last six road series. Goldschmidt and Arenado were there.
10) Since reaching their apex of the season (37-27 record) on June 14, the Cardinals are 14-19 for a .424 winning percentage that ranks 11th among the 15 NL teams. And over this time the Cardinals have the fourth-best record in the NL Central, pathetically only a half-game ahead of the Reds (13-19.) Goldschmidt and Arenado were in the middle of all of that, and the Cardinals still got slapped around.
11) Heck, they’re now struggling to handle the losing teams, having gone 2-2 in their last four series against opponents below .500. Sure, I think these two cornerstone pieces should be in Toronto with their teammates … and I think they let their teammates down by not being with them. But if the Cardinals go 0-2 in Canada that would actually fit into their season-long profile of getting their butts kicked by good teams on the road. St. Louis is 10-19 against winning teams on the road … and again, Goldschmidt and Arenado were there.
12) If, from here on out, the Cardinals zonk out and roll over for the Brewers and/or fail to make it to the playoffs, it won’t be because Goldschmidt and Arenado said no to the vaccine and the series in Toronto. They’ll blow it by failing to take advantage of MLB’s easiest schedule in the second half. To update: 13 of their final 21 series will be played against losing teams, and 67.7% of their remaining games will be played against losing teams.
13) And if the Cardinals fall apart, it most likely will be for this crucial reason: the front office did little or nothing to prevent the collapse of the starting rotation. That’s still the most important area of the team going forward, and the situation reached the most alarming level of the season over the weekend in Cincinnati. Top two starters Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas got bopped around for 13 earned runs in their 11.1 combined innings, with their starts leading to losses on Friday and Sunday. The Cardinals won Saturday’s game but lost starter Steven Matz to a freak knee injury in his first start since May 22. It’s back to the IL for Matz for several weeks or longer.
14) The rotation continues to erode. In July, Cards starters have a 5.01 overall ERA and a 8.04 road ERA and that’s the No. 1 reason for the team’s 8-13 record this month. And if the front office doesn’t fix this fatal flaw, Goldschmidt and Arenado are capable of doing only so much to compensate for this glaring weakness. As is, Goldschmidt and Arenado have hit 40.3 percent of the team’s homers, lashed 31.3% of the team’s doubles, driven in 32% of the RBI, and scored 25% of the runs.
15) And please stop yapping about this World Series scenario.: If the Blue Jays and Cardinals meet in the World Series, the Cardinals won’t have Goldschmidt and Arenado available for the games played in Toronto. Man, the deep-October sky is falling already? With a team that doesn’t win regular-season games on a consistent basis?
15a) World Series? Huh? Why don’t we worry about beating the Reds first? Or fret over this team’s sickening habit of losing the final games of series when presented with a chance to win or sweep a series. Save the worry beads for keeping up with the Brewers, or winning road games, or beating the better teams, or winning a postseason round, or winning a NLCS game for the first time since 2014. If you’re headed to the fainting couch, the anxiety should be centered around MISSING THE PLAYOFFS instead of conjuring up make-believe horrors. The Cardinals have an actual, present-moment horror to deal with: the starting rotation.
I hope that Arenado and Goldschmidt will come back later this week in Washington to resume launching homers, extra-base hits and plating bushels of RBI. If so, reasonable people will forget about this hoo-hah over vaccines.
Now, let’s get back to the dream-state obsession with Juan Soto. Heck, the way this is going Washington batting-practice pitcher Patrick Corbin – 6.02 ERA – would be the No. 3 starter in the St. Louis rotation.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.