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It was a rough day for the Kansas City Royals when it was announced that 10 of their players wouldn't be able to play in a road series against the Toronto Blue Jays because they are unvaccinated, but arguably the lowest moment came from one of the franchise's clubhouse leaders.
Two-time All-Star Whit Merrifield was among the many players who explained their decision after the news broke, but he was the only one who implied the decision was conditional on playing for a contender:
From Anne Rogers of MLB.com:
"Right or wrong, I didn't do it on a whim. It's been a long thought process. Because I understand what Canada has in place right now. That's the only reason that I would think about getting it at this point, is to go to Canada. That might change down the road. Something happens and I happen to get on a team that has a chance to go play in Canada in the postseason, maybe that changes. But as we sit here right now, I'm comfortable in my decision, my teammates support me, support the rest of the guys in here who have made that decision, and that's that."
Merrifield saw a predictable amount of criticism for acknowledging the 35-53 Royals' lack of competitiveness played a role in a decision that affects his health and the health of those around him. "He is not a winning player. None of these scientists in baseball pants are," was one comment from Sports Illustrated's Stephanie Apstein.
Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore told Apstein he believed Merrifield, who is currently hitting 240/.292/.343 with five home runs, wasn't alone in not bothering with the vaccine as long as the Royals are in the AL Central basement.
A day later, Moore discussed the situation on The Program with Soren Petro and said he was "disgusted" when he heard Merrifield's comments, but revealed Merrifield had apologized for how he explained the decision:
"It's very difficult at times to articulate feelings and emotions. Sometimes, it just comes out wrong. When I first heard that, I was very disappointed. Pretty disgusted, truthfully. But I also know that's not who Whit is. And as I communicated with Whit about that, he made it very clear he was sorry for how that came out. I have to accept that and move on. I'm not going to kick him when he's down, because I do know what Whit Merrifield has meant to our team, the great work he does in this community and I just think it was a very poor choice of words.
"He'll learn from that and we all will. It's unfortunate, but we've gotta try to move on from it . Whit will get an opportunity to discuss that statement at some point in time."
Moore confirmed that Merrifield would be made available to discuss his statement after the All-Star break. He also expressed doubt that the player broke a streak of 553 consecutive games played with a phantom toe injury days earlier to avoid public scrutiny.
The Royals officially placed their 10 players, including many key staters, on the restricted list Thursday ahead of their first game in Toronto, with the team's Twitter account subtly scolding them in the process.
Funnily enough, the Royals then won their first game against the Blue Jays 3-1, despite featuring five Triple-A players and three Double-A players on their roster.