Jason Heyward had some strong thoughts — and at least a few strong words — for those who consider unvaccinated, un-masked Cubs a health risk when 40,000 people are allowed to buy a ticket to a game at Wrigley Field and wear masks based on an honor system.
“They’re worried about us. They need to worry about people coming to the games,” said Heyward, who became the second Cub to acknowledge refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine Sunday when he told NBC Sports Chicago he’s unvaccinated.
“If [expletive] breaks out, and there’s a rise in [infections], it ain’t going to be because of something we did. We ain’t allowed to go around them,” he said. “Could be something that happens because of people here not wearing masks when they’re told to please wear your mask.”
Anthony Rizzo, another veteran team leader, became the highest profile player in the game to admit to being unvaccinated Friday — the day Wrigley was allowed to operate at full-attendance capacity for the first time since 2019.
And whether Heyward’s thoughts are representative of the rest of the team, an evolving lack of regard for mask wearing in the Cubs’ dugout reached what appeared to be a unanimous, team-wide level of scofflaw mask behavior during Saturday’s nationally broadcast game — when manager David Ross and the coaching staff also went mask-less.
It was conspicuous enough that league officials took note, and a series of fines — if not greater penalties — could be in play for any or all of the uniformed personnel.
“There was no coordination in anything, any [collective] reason why people were or were not wearing their masks,” said Ross, who was wearing a mask in the dugout Sunday after saying “I just forgot” to do it Saturday.
The Cubs are one of eight MLB teams still subject to dugout and clubhouse mask mandates — among a long list of MLB’s restrictive safety protocols — because they have failed to reach the 85-percent vaccination threshold for players and other “Tier 1” personnel that MLB requires to lift some restrictions.
Team officials and multiple players have said they don’t expect to get there.
And as the season nears the halfway mark, it’s becoming a growing quandary for a league that has billions at stake in assuring a full season is played — not to mention a Cubs team that is raising the stakes on its season with every series sweep like the weekend three-gamer against the rival Cardinals it completed with Sunday’s 2-0 victory.
Whether two team leaders the stature of Rizzo and Heyward refusing to be vaccinated has had an impact on others’ decisions, it certainly has contributed to a numbers shortfall that leaves the Cubs still subject to potential contact-tracing shutdowns of players testing negative if somebody else tests positive.
It’s a team status team president Jed Hoyer called a competitive disadvantage and “frankly disappointing."
He also expressed respect for individual choices.
Heyward said he made his individual choice despite his parents and others close to him choosing to get their shots.
“That’s because we had the luxury of being able to not rush that decision, because we get tested more than anyone in the world,” he said. “I just feel like it’s not something I was prepared to rush any decision on.
“Everyone’s situation is different," he added. "That’s every walk of life, with anything. I don’t have kids right now. My wife and I don’t have anyone living with us in our home that’s older. Most of our family members are vaccinated, so we know we’re not endangering them. Also, we’re not going around people like that.
“With that being said, with the fact that more people are vaccinated, with the fact we’re tested three times a week at least, for us here in the dugout and doing our jobs, that’s the last thing we need to be worried about right now.”
While Ross and his coaches were back to wearing masks Sunday, no Cubs players appeared to be wearing them in the dugout and don’t seem on the verge of doing so anytime soon.
If anything, a change in overall MLB mandates might come first.
“I think what we are — as probably most clubs are — waiting on protocol changes,” said Ian Happ, the Cubs’ union rep, who added that discussions between MLB and the union are continuing toward that possibility as the overall vaccination rate in MLB has reached what experts consider the herd-immunity range.
That could include dropping dugout mask mandates for players across the league — though Happ said he wasn’t sure of some of the specifics or a firm timeline.
“I think that it’s possible that vaccinated guys have different protocols than non-vaccinated, and I think that just because of the way the world’s working now and the CDC [guideline changes],” Happ said.
Happ is one of at least eight Cubs players who have publicly said they’re vaccinated and, in most cases, discussed the advantages, including: Javy Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Kyle Hendricks, Nico Hoerner, Adbert Alzolay and Craig Kimbrel.
Meanwhile, Rizzo, Heyward and Jake Arrieta before have talked about the Cubs’ diligence in following protocols and ability to avoid outbreaks.
And a testing system that requires each player getting at least three COVID-19 tests a week only adds to the safety levels within the bubble, Heyward said.
Players’ awareness of that has only heightened with increased fan capacity.
But even in the early, mask-mandated period of 25-percent capacity, “no one was wearing masks,” Heyward said. “That’s my point.
“And I remember the first game that people had the vaccinated section out there in center field, nobody was wearing masks — but nobody [in the other seating areas] was wearing masks, either,” he added. “Nobody’s been wearing masks. That’s this stadium. That’s Atlanta. That’s everywhere we play. That’s my point.
“So now that you have it at 100 percent right now, they can’t control any of that [expletive]. These people aren’t getting tested the same way we’re getting tested, and they’re not around each other the same way that we’re all around each other. So they don’t know what the hell this person did or whether or not they’re telling the truth.
“So I feel they should be more worried about them than us.”