It was, without debate, the second-most significant date in the history of the Tampa Bay baseball franchise. Game No. 162, eight years ago. Rays 8, Yankees 7. And Chaim Bloom, at that point an assistant minor-league director, seventh on the baseball operations totem pole in the team’s media guide, missed it by design.
“Basically,” he said in part, looking back on it earlier this year, “I decided that my commitments to my family were more important than being around for a game whose outcome I was at that point not going to be able to influence.”
That’s your new baseball boss, Red Sox Nation. A guy who put the personal ahead of a playoff berth.
With everything we see out of pro sports these days? With what we’re watching the Astros braintrust show itself to be during this World Series? Chaim Bloom’s a character in the noblest sense of the word.
Give me 50 of him. Better yet, give me the only one, and let him set the direction of this franchise as it approaches a critical transition.
It’s the first day of school for Bloom, who’ll be unveiled at Fenway Park on Monday afternoon, the 36-year-old Philadelphian set to take the reins as Boston’s Chief Baseball Officer. Much will be said, and more will be written, parsed, and taken in various forms of context.
There’ll be very little easing in: Within five days of the end of the World Series, J.D. Martinez is likely to opt out of his contract and become a free agent. Mookie Betts is one year and counting from the open market. Oh, and there’s the little thing of that promised 10 percent cut in payroll (so the Red Sox can reset their competitive balance tax rates) after a 24-win regression from World Series champions to “we’re using 18 relievers in September because why not.”
Those are baseball decisions. Ones Bloom — part of a multi-headed braintrust in Tampa since Andrew Friedman’s departure for the Dodgers in 2014 — seems uniquely qualified to tackle given the slew of talent shed by the Rays for payroll concerns the last 10 years. Ten years in which Tampa, at roughly one-third the cost, won just 12 fewer regular-season games than the Red Sox.
There’ll be plenty of time for those debates starting Monday night, after the Yale alum whose playing career ended in Little League offers up some answers to questions about the 2020 roster. Right now?
Let’s consider the man, an act that brings us back to that story above and Sept. 28, 2011. Around here, the last night of the 7-20 collapse. The end of Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, and our innocence about the dangers of Popeyes. In St. Petersburg, a moment second only to Tampa reaching the World Series in 2008, a resurrection from nine games back and seven runs down that was, apparently, 278 million to 1.
Chaim Bloom missed it, because for all those things the final day of the 2011 regular season was, it was also Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
And Bloom, who lives less than five miles from Tropicana Field in part — according to a lengthy profile from April in Tablet, a Jewish-American online magazine — so he can return home on Fridays and observe Shabbat with his wife and two sons before night games, went to worship. It’s who he is, and part of why he comes to Boston so highly regarded.
“There are opportunities every day to bring your values positively to people,” Bloom told Tablet‘s Yair Rosenberg. “I think it makes me better at my job, and I can trace a lot of that to the values that I was brought up with, about recognizing that there are things beyond you and your own desires, and that the impact you have on other people and on the world is really important.”
Big-time sports provide dozens of contrasts to that thinking every year, but consider just the Astros, in the face of both the Brandon Taubman incident specifically and the team’s attempt to weasel out of owning it. The Athletic‘s Evan Drellich, who covered the team for the Houston Chronicle before his stint at NBC Sports Boston, spoke to “more than 10 current and former Astros employees” on the team’s internal culture for a piece last week, the anonymous quotes he garnered showing Taubman, assistant general manager before being fired Thursday, likely was no outlier.
“It’s fear-based,” said one ex-employee.
“Toxic. Eats you alive,” said another. “Cutthroat. Secretive. Not fun.”
And yet, wildly successful, in sports and so many other walks of life. Houston sits one win away this morning from a second World Series championship in three years, giving the average Astros fan every reason to not care how their team architects conduct themselves. For that matter, it’s debatable what percentage of fans anywhere have ever thought a whit about whether their team’s sausage was made cruelty-free. After all, “just win, baby” has been a celebrated part of sporting canon for 35 years now.
To listen to Bloom, however, is to hear a different chorus. Relationships. Trust. Challenge, whether the challenge of learning or the challenge of being faced with new ideas from other perspectives.
His road into baseball, to hear him discuss it in September 2018 on MLB.com’s Executive Access podcast, was paved with phone calls, emails, and humility. Everything was viewed as a growth opportunity. Bloom’s views on the game have changed quite a bit since 2005, when he hooked on with the still-Devil Rays as an intern and began his climb, but the things he holds to from that ascension remain grounded.
“The unity that we believe in, how we believe in treating people, the way we approach taking care of our players,” Bloom said. “The importance of relationships, and the importance of how you treat people and how you make them feel through your conversations with them.
“For me, the thing that enabled us to have the success that we had [under Friedman, when Tampa first became a contender] was having a people-focused culture. Focus on our employees, focus on our players, and keeping that at the forefront of things. Everything else lines up behind that, because if you don’t have that, you’re never going to have the atmosphere that you want to generate some of those great ideas.”
That certainly seems to fit the Red Sox model, which is far more stable than four administrations — Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington, Dave Dombrowski, and Bloom — in less than two decades would infer. The Gang of Four running the team since Dombrowski’s firing in September all have been here in various capacities well more than a decade.
Bloom sounds ready to slot in, listen, and learn, even if it’s from the top of the chain of command.
“I hope this is something that other people would say about me, that I care about people, that I listen to them, and I’m thoughtful,” he told MLB.com when asked to scout himself. “And also that I have a degree of humility about what I don’t know. I think all those things really, hopefully, feed off of each other.
“To me, the most fun about doing what we do is being able to come together with other people to build something and have a chance to create something great, and in order to do that, you need to care about relationships. And you need to build relationships. And then you need to be humble about what perspective other people can bring.”
He had a passion for baseball from a young age. A passion for studying Latin led to him majoring in it. A passion for people, and the challenge and emotion of the sport at the highest level, helped make him a finalist for general manager jobs in his native Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Queens, and San Francisco in the five years before this opportunity arose.
“I think that because of Yale, and classics, and frankly the name ‘Chaim,’ people assume that he’s a [quantitative] guy, and what they don’t realize is that he’s a hangout guy,” said Bloom’s wife, Aliza, to Tablet. “He’s the one who stays in the clubhouse having beers with them until really late. He’s the one who all the training staff and the strength and conditioning guys and the coaches go to when they want to talk about something personal.”
He is, in brief, everything Dombrowski seemed not to be, especially at the end. He is ready to do this the way you’d hope he would.
I’m not naive, and neither is he: It’s a results business, and the winning is what matters. But if you could choose to do it Houston’s way or this way, which would you pick?
“Look, we’re all just people,” Bloom told MLB.com. “And we’re people trying to come together and accomplish something.”
Unveilings like Monday’s are days where it all feels right, where possibilities are endless and everything’s on the rise. Chaim Bloom’s Monday will be no different, even if he seems to be in all the right ways.