There were no microphones in front of him, and the usual bank of cameras was replaced by an iPad. Instead of a blazer and slacks, Gabe Kapler wore a light jacket and hat as he sat on his couch and did MLB's mandated "winter meetings" press conference on Tuesday.
It was exactly what we've come to expect in 2020, but change could be on the way. By the time pitchers and catchers report for spring training, the vaccines for COVID-19 should be widely distributed, but for all the problems that will solve, there's another one looming as the league and the players association discuss the possibility of a full season.
You don't have to do much searching on social media to find some MLB players who are either skeptical about the vaccine or outright opposed. There will certainly be players who don't want to take it when it's available, but Kapler said he has no concerns about getting a shot. He also knows it's going to be a tricky subject.
"I will get vaccinated, but that is a personal choice, at least right now, for me," Kapler said. "I will of course be open to having conversations with our players and talking about anything that they want to talk about. I'm happy to talk through FDA approval and talk through the different companies that are doing a pretty good job of developing the vaccines and rolling them out, but I won't do anything other than be a good resource for our players right now."
A key part there is "right now." USA Today reported earlier this week that some MLB owners prefer to delay the start of the 2021 season until players and staffers can get vaccinated, and it seems a lock that another ugly fight is coming between the sides as Spring Training approaches. But Kapler, in answering a question about the vaccine, hit on something that hasn't been publicly discussed much thus far.
Right now the vaccine is going to first responders, but at some point, you figure MLB will find a way to get a significant number of shots, regardless of the fact that professional athletes should be far down the list. During this past season, MLB figured out a way to get players and staffers rapidly tested when much of the public was waiting weeks, and the Giants are still testing employees who stop by Oracle Park.
There could come a point when MLB is faced with the possibility of demanding players get a vaccine some might not be totally on board with, but Kapler would be well-equipped to have that conversation in the clubhouse. He took a similar approach to the discussion around kneeling, saying repeatedly that his choice was personal and that he would simply listen and explain his point of view to any player who might feel differently. It's the kind of approach that might be needed again.
"I believe in the science of the vaccine. I believe that the FDA has approved the vaccines for a reason and that reason is extensive study," Kapler said. "That's why I will absolutely take the vaccine, and at the same time, I'm going to be sensitive to the concerns and the [desire] to be educated of our players."