Sioux City manager Steve Montgomery prior to the 2020 season

The American Association Has a Vaccination Problem

It’s safe to say that most folks have become rather numb to the effects of the Coronavirus on professional baseball. We reached a fatigue point somewhere during the 2020 season and I honestly don’t believe most fans, and even pundits covering the sport, came back from that fatigue. For most, COVID is just a thing that is happening now. Players end up on and off of COVID injured lists, some wear masks, maybe certain leagues have a COVID policy, maybe others don’t, it’s just the way the baseball world operates now and most would rather watch baseball than care about what COVID still means to the actual world, baseball included.

One such example of that is found in a pair of recent transactions that took place in the American Association. American Association’s Twitter account is great for keeping track of the various transactions around the league. In between game reports and whatnot, there exists a neverending stream of the player transactions that are routine when you’re a North American unaffiliated league. I didn’t even bat an eye when the transaction below crossed my feed,

Massive transactions like that aren’t the norm in the AA, but they do happen so it doesn’t exactly raise many eyebrows. However, just a few days later the same players that the Milwaukee Milkmen had just signed were included in this tweet,

Every single one of the players they had just signed ended up being released. Again, it’s not uncommon in a league like the AA for players to only fill out a roster for a couple of days before going on their way somewhere else. Usually, it’s not this many short-term fill-ins at once though, and that got my interest piqued and I felt the need to investigate further. That investigation didn’t turn up a whole lot on the Milkmen’s side as there wasn’t any chatter about these players, why they were signed, or why they were released.

Then my digging found something. A member of a Facebook group dedicated to independent baseball posted a question asking why the Sioux City Explorers, a AA club, had signed a bunch of players only to release them a couple of days later. An official associated with the AA provided a link to an article from the Sioux City Journal to answer the question. In the article, the reporter, Shane Lantz, reveals that due to a low team vaccination rate the Explorers had to sign a bevy of fully vaccinated players from the Pecos League for their upcoming series in Canada against the Winnipeg Goldeyes.

At this point everything began to make sense, a quick look back at the players signed by the Milkmen revealed that every one of the players they signed and released were the same Pecos League substitutes used by the Explorers for their trip to Canada. A glance at the Milkman’s schedule shows that they signed the players in question right before they headed to Canada to face the Goldeyes and cut those same players loose when they returned from their Canadian excursion.

The article referenced above goes into detail about how the majority of the Explorers roster and coaches aren’t vaccinated. How even the few who are vaccinated weren’t going to make the trip to Canada because of fear of the required PCR test and accompanying mandated quarantine if you test positive. The article isn’t actually good beyond the information it provides. The slant that Lantz offers is straight from the Explorers, that this whole process is more of a hassle for the Explorers than anything else. That’s sad as the reality is that it exposes the Explorers as a collection of unvaccinated folks who are putting their community, families, and opponents at risk. It doesn’t shed a positive light on the vaccinated Explorers either as they would clearly rather be positive for COVID and spread the virus to others than risk a positive test that meant they had to miss some games.

This whole debacle got me thinking about the games I’ve watched from the AA all year long. At no point has there appeared to be any sort of mask policy in place. Because it’s an unaffiliated league they have been able to skirt any questions about vaccination rates for the most part. There’s nothing in any of their press releases or media guide about their plans for monitoring, controlling, and dealing with COVID during the 2021 season. It’s not that they don’t have a plan, it’s that they didn’t feel the need to make their COVID plan or guidelines public. In the article referenced above Explorers manager, Steve Montgomery, says that the team is following CDC guidelines for COVID. The article doesn’t push back on this at all despite it being an obvious lie.

All year long the Explorers, and every AA club, have had dugouts full of players not wearing masks. Yes, the argument could be made that the dugouts are outdoors and CDC guidelines state that unvaccinated folk can be maskless in outdoor areas. That is an argument of semantics being made in bad faith and not one that I am about to entertain. Dugouts, and by extension clubhouses, in the American Association have been full of players, coaches, trainers, and more in close contact with one another where very few have been wearing masks. It’s safe to infer from what we have seen transpire with the Explorers and Milkmen that a great number of the folks not wearing masks for the other clubs are also unvaccinated.

If not for Winnipeg returning to Canada and teams having to deal with Canada’s COVID guidelines none of this ever would have come to light. Well, it has come to light and what that light has shown us is that teams are signing vaccinated players to replace their multitude of unvaccinated players for these Canadian games. A number of regular AA players that are vaccinated are also refusing to enter Canada for fear of a positive test. All the while the AA is carrying on like it’s business as usual, acting like they don’t have a problem with unvaccinated players and staff. That somehow all of this is normal and it’s not an indictment of the league’s lax COVID guidelines that unvaccinated players and staff have been maskless in the dugouts and clubhouses for most of the season.

I can’t stress enough how much I love unaffiliated baseball, but I also can’t look past what we are seeing transpire in the AA. It makes me wonder what is happening in other North American unaffiliated leagues? How much is the virus being spread from city to city by unvaccinated players and staff who just so happen to be asymptomatic? It’s clear that the officials in charge of these unaffiliated leagues don’t much care. Just keep your eye on the transactions in the AA and you’ll both know when a team is about to play in Canada and just how much of their roster is unvaccinated or vaccinated and not willing to be tested. COVID never left baseball, certainly not the unaffiliated leagues. People stopped caring and when that happens the current state of COVID in the American Association is the only logical outcome.

Lead photo courtesy of Justin Wan – Sioux City Journal

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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