Paul O’Neill was in the YES booth for the first time this season on Monday. But he wasn’t actually in the booth.
The former Yankees right fielder called the 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays over a monitor from home in Ohio while Michael Kay and David Cone were in the Bronx. This happened because O’Neill is unvaccinated, according to The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand.
The larger issue involves O’Neill’s COVID-19 vaccine status. O’Neill is not vaccinated, according to sources.
The Post obtained documents sent to employees saying that YES personnel had to have proof of vaccination by Jan. 1. There is an exception in the policy for a “medical condition or a sincerely held religious belief or practice.”
A YES spokesman declined comment about if the network has a policy that makes it mandatory for employees to be vaccinated.
O’Neill staying at home is a YES call by all accounts. There are no MLB rules prohibiting unvaccinated broadcasters (although their access to certain areas at the ballpark is restricted) and being a broadcaster would figure to fall into the entertainer category with the city’s vaccine mandate. But YES isn’t saying anything, and neither is O’Neill.
After a phone call and text seeking comment, O’Neill texted that because of the lockout, the first two series he was scheduled to call were canceled. He only had this week’s games in all of April. He will not have another game until May.
“Talk to you then,” O’Neill said.
When asked specifically about if his vaccination status had anything to do with his absence from the stadium, O’Neill declined to text back.
Look, O’Neill can do whatever he wants. But it is strange that YES would willingly let the guy zoom in when there are plenty of vaccinated bodies that can do the job just as well. COVID-era broadcasts stunk with people calling games off screens while unable to go into the clubhouse and onto the field for batting practice to interact with coaches and players. Why continue it? And it’s not like O’Neill is considered some can’t-miss analyst either. He’s fine. But he doesn’t have to be on the air.
Also of note, as Marchand points out: The Yankees are returning O’Neill’s number in Aug. 21. Current MLB rules prohibit unvaccinated broadcasters from being in-person with coaches and players and being on the field before the game. Those protocols could impact what the actual ceremony looks like that day.