The soon-to-be Monument Park immortal — O’Neill’s No. 21 will be retired Sunday — has been calling games remotely for YES Network all season. It’s because O’Neill is unvaccinated. YES has a vaccine mandate in place for in-person business, which keeps him out of the broadcast booth.
YES has decided to grant him a workaround for reasons it has never articulated. And O’Neill also has no desire to add more detail. He stiff-armed a pair of questions about his situation in an interview with NJ.com baseball columnist Bob Klapisch prior to his number retirement ceremony.
“I’d rather not discuss that,” O’Neill said when the subject was broached. Then when Klapisch asked if remote work feels strange: “Klap, I really don’t want to go there.”
That’s fine. O’Neill is free to make his vaccination decision. And it’s his call whether he elaborates on his thinking publicly. But YES does deserve scrutiny here — certainly more than it had received — and any awkwardness that comes with Sunday’s festivities could kick-start that.
There was a great deal of hand-wringing during the 2021 season about the Yankees’ radio and television broadcast crews refraining from making road trips. And rightfully so.
The pandemic had moved to a manageable place by the spring, so it was no longer a safety issue. It was a cheapness issue. Audacy and YES Network deserved to get called out for that. It also felt like a prestige issue. Do you think George Steinbrenner would have tolerated John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman calling games against the Red Sox on a monitor 200 miles from Fenway Park? And, above all else, it was a quality issue. The broadcast is better when the talent is in the building. Period.
[Yet YES allows] Paul O’Neill — reportedly unvaccinated — to call games from his house in Ohio. The network even has Michael Kay “turn” toward O’Neill during the broadcast open when he brings him into the banter.
A bit YES itself is responsible for. There is no MLB or government mandate keeping O’Neill out of the broadcast booth. It’s YES that has set the mandate. And then, for whatever reason, has opted to create a sub-optimal product to afford for a work-around.
O’Neill is a good analyst. But he is not incredible. And there is not a lack of vaccinated people who could do the job roughly as well in person. It’s just strange how the network is willing to jump through all these hoops. Either have a mandate and stick to it or have no mandate at all.
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James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]