The contentious politics of Eric Adams’ decision were evident during his news conference on Thursday announcing that unvaccinated hometown athletes again will be allowed to compete in New York City.
But for the New York teams impacted by the mayor’s ruling, the most evident reaction was gratitude.
“We appreciate his decision; I think he made the right decision,” Yankees president Randy Levine told reporters after the mayor’s formal 45-minute session at Citi Field concluded.
The Nets will feel the impact of Adams’ decision first, with Kyrie Irving cleared to play home games effective immediately. But the Nets, whose next game at Barclays Center is Sunday night, deferred comment until Friday.
Levine and Mets president Sandy Alderson were among those who sat alongside the mayor as he made his announcement in front of the oversized number “42” in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.
“The mayor’s decision today makes things easier for us,” Alderson said after the news conference. “There’s no question about that. At the same time, we’re going to continue to attempt to get our players fully vaccinated.”
It is not clear precisely how many Yankees and Mets are unvaccinated. Levine and Alderson said they were unable to provide a percentage because of MLB’s collective bargaining agreement.
By changing course, Adams avoided the spectacle of prominent Yankees and Mets sitting out the teams’ home openers and beyond. The Yankees will open the season at home against the Red Sox on April 7 and the Mets’ home opener is eight days later against the Diamondbacks.
Given that many city workers lost their jobs over a refusal to get vaccinated, Adams knew he would get criticized for making an exception for athletes and other performers.
But he argued that the protocol that allowed unvaccinated visiting players to compete but not home players was unfair and not supported by science.
He also said that given New York’s difficult economic situation two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, winning teams are important to attracting business activity, from arena workers to tourism to bars and restaurants.
“By putting our home teams on an equal playing field, we increase their chances of winning, and that has a real impact on our city,” Adams said.
Clearly, a deep playoff run by Irving and the Nets would help businesses in and around Barclays Center. But in the short term, the Mets and Yankees would have played on regardless of whether rosters were whole.
Still, Alderson agreed with the mayor’s reasoning.
“Star players attract more people to the ballpark,” he said, “so I do believe that were we to play with a less-than-full complement of players, it would have an impact on the number of people who would come to the ballpark” and thus on overall business activity.
Irving still is ineligible to play in Canada and thus would miss a potential Nets play-in tournament game in Toronto. And the unvaccinated Yankees cannot play when the team visits the Blue Jays in early May.
“We hope to get everybody vaccinated, but that’s a problem,” Levine said of the Toronto situation.
When a reporter asked Levine about Aaron Judge’s “wishy-washy” comments on whether he has been vaccinated, Levine said it is up to Judge how he handles such questions.
“We stand behind vaccinations [as an organization],” Levine said. “What Aaron Judge does and how he speaks is up to Aaron Judge.”
Given Irving’s saga and the fact that Adams recently signaled he was in no rush to change course, many assumed one or both baseball teams played a role in getting him to act before Opening Day.
Adams denied that, as did Levine. “We don’t lobby anything,” Levine said. “We talked to the mayor’s people. We gave them our point of view.”
The Mets are believed to have more unvaccinated players than do the Yankees. Asked if he had been concerned about not having those players at home, Alderson said, “When you have a 26- or 28-man roster going into the season and a number of those players can’t play, there’s no question it has an impact.”
While the Nets did not comment, the NBA and its players association issued a statement noting the league’s high vaccination and booster rates, then added: “With today’s announcement, we support the Mayor’s determination that the old rules treating hometown and visiting players differently no longer made sense, particularly because unvaccinated NBA players will continue to test daily.”