Giants’ Brian Bannister back in uniform after MLB lifted vaccination requirements for coaches

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A video board at the Giants’ clubhouse showed the schedule for Thursday’s first practice of the spring. It listed everything from pitching groups to station changes and breakfast times to an 8:30 a.m. meditation session on the third floor observation deck.

And among the staff who oversaw the first bullpen sessions of the spring, alongside pitching coach Andrew Bailey and assistant pitching coach JP Martinez, was director of pitching Brian Bannister.

Major League Baseball will lift its on-field vaccination requirement for coaches and team members, Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed the athlete. That means Bannister, who was unvaccinated last year and therefore limited to long-distance assignments, can be in uniform and working directly with major league pitchers again.

“The state of the pandemic is such that it was an opportune time to make this change,” Manfred said. “It was carried out in consultation with several consultants.”

It was news that Giants president Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler warmly welcomed.

“He’s obviously very excited,” Zaidi said of Bannister. “He’s pretty effective on the pitching side. For him personally, it’s a big deal to be able to interact with people again and do what he loves to do.

“I’m vaccinated and refreshed, Kap probably is too. But honestly, we’re in an environment where certain vaccination needs and feelings may be changing. I don’t know how much that affected the league’s decision. But in individual cases it’s good for us that he’s working again.”

Around this time last year, MLB relaxed many of its health and safety protocols for the 2022 season, removing mandatory vaccinations for minor league players and many face covering and contact tracing policies. However, vaccination requirements for minor league and major league coaches remained in place. Several teams, including the Washington Nationals, had their own policies, firing coaches, physical therapists, Boy Scouts and front-office executives who refused to honor the vaccination mandate.

But the Giants appreciated Bannister’s pitching sharpness enough that they tolerated a remote work setup. Kapler stressed Wednesday that wanting to make it work is a two-way street.

“Certainly the organization feels Banny is important enough to create a remote work environment,” Kapler said. “Banny had to say, ‘This is what I want. I have to get through this difficult time.’ I don’t think he was as fulfilled as he could have been, but he saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

“He felt like he could hold out there. It’s best for us that he did that because he’s very helpful in our pitching process. And it’s for the best for him because I think we’re the right environment for him.”

Bannister’s expertise lies in data-driven pitch design, many aspects of which lend themselves to remote work. But there was no substitute for real-time collaboration and analysis with players. Kapler said the difference has never been clearer to him than it has over the past week or two, as Bannister has been working with smaller players in the Papago Park complex’s pitching lab and with big players in bullpen sessions.

“He does a lot more,” said Kapler. “After all these sessions there is a recap to go through data, go through mechanics and have general conversations about pitchers. And Banny is at the heart of those conversations. Just by his physical presence, you can now see how important he is to our process.”

Bannister’s director title encompasses the entire organization, so his remote setup also had to replace his in-person work with pitchers at all levels of the Giants’ minor league system. The burden fell on minor league pitching coordinator Justin Lehr and pitching sciences director Matt Daniels to make additional travel and review each level. (Daniels left the organization two months ago and recently accepted a position with the Minnesota Twins as director of Pitching Development and Acquisitions.)

Bannister, who Zaidi replaced as a vice president of pitching development with the Boston Red Sox ahead of the 2020 season, is also one of the Giants’ leading voices in amateur scouting and has had quite an impact on the club’s strategy over the past few years.

(Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Giants) Giants’ Brian Bannister back in uniform after MLB lifted vaccination requirements for coaches

Russell Falcon

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