Anthony Rizzo, since his acquisition from the Cubs, has been the Yankees’ hottest hitter. He’s got three dingers and six RBI in nine games with New York, putting up a sparkling .963 OPS. He’s certainly not the only reason the Yankees are red-hot over that span, but he’s played a big role in their 8-1 stretch, a run they desperately needed: New York is still 5.5 games back of Tampa in the AL East, and 1.5 back of Oakland for the second wild card. The point is that Rizzo has been huge for them, and he’ll be relied upon heavily for the playoff push.
Oh look, Rizzo just went on the COVID IL, where he’ll likely have to stay for 10 days. If only there had been some way to lessen the chances of this happening!
Rizzo’s symptoms are reportedly minor, and thankfully so, but that doesn’t matter as far as the injured list goes. Vaccinated players, once they test negative, can return in as little as two days. Unvaccinated players, which Rizzo is believed to be, must sit out the full 10 days at minimum, and more if symptoms persist or require the player to play his way back into shape—both things that would probably (though not definitely) have been avoided with the jab.
In June, Rizzo, a cancer survivor, said he had not received the vaccine, and while he claimed he was not against it, he felt strongly enough about it to lecture the Cubs’ team physicians on it. “I’ve said all along to our doctors I’m just taking some more time to see the data on all of it,” he said. “There’s definitely some personal reasons as well. But it’s just one of those things where, as we continue to get more data, I’ll continue to be more educated on it.” (For the record, it’s as yet unclear whether cancer survivors are at higher risk for COVID-19 symptoms, but all studies show the vaccine is just as effective on them as on anyone else.)
The Cubs remain one of the few teams not to reach the 85 percent vaccination threshold, to the extended exasperation of management, and the trade deadline sent Rizzo to the team with the most COVID positives so far this year, which might’ve been a recipe for disaster. The Yankees have reached 85 percent—“a large percentage of us obviously are [vaccinated], but I’m not going to get into that anymore,” manager Aaron Boone said Sunday—but they’ve been hit particularly hard by breakthrough cases. Rizzo joins starters Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery and catcher Gary Sanchez on the COVID IL. Last month, six other Yankees were placed on the COVID list in a separate outbreak, including Aaron Judge.
Judge, like Rizzo, is believed to be unvaccinated, though he wouldn’t address it directly, only saying “I’m not going to get into that. It’s something I like to keep talking to my doctor about.” But it’s not hard to figure out. The Yankees said that not all of the players in that outbreak were vaccinated, and it was later reported that the other five non-Judge players were, so you do the math.
Judge missed nine games over 11 days, and the team scuffled to a 5-4 record without him—with three of those losses coming by one run. Would the Yankees have won more games with Judge in the lineup? Will they, in the next 10 or so days, lose a game they would have won with a healthy Rizzo? It is of course impossible to know for certain, but if the Yankees miss out on a higher seed or miss the playoffs altogether by a game or two, there’s a consequential chance it’ll be because their two best hitters spent avoidable time on the IL.
I’m put in mind of Kirk Cousins, who claimed he’s “going to do whatever it takes” to stay on the field and help his team win, while refusing to do the single easiest, safest thing. As always, it’s instructive to pay more attention to what athletes do than what they say.