Chaim Bloom wasn’t prepared.
The Red Sox chief baseball officer is by nature a worrier. He tries to plan for all scenarios, particularly worst-case ones.
His obsession with depth in case of injury or underperformance is a testament to that trait. His examination of topics tends to be exhaustive to ensure that he is not shocked by anything.
Yet after Game 162 of the season, with his team having just secured passage to the postseason with a comeback win over the Nationals in Washington, Bloom’s sense of anticipation faltered.
He was scrambling to change into clothes suitable for champagne-induced annihilation. He’d had time to throw on Red Sox gym shorts and a T-shirt, but before he could put on sneakers, he was told that manager Alex Cora wanted him on hand as his team popped bottles.
Bloom, in bare feet, thought Cora merely wanted him in the clubhouse. Instead, Cora praised his steady leadership and offered a gesture:
“We give the lineup card to who deserves it: Chaim Bloom,” Cora pronounced.
The clubhouse erupted as champagne sprayed. The moment, which was broadcast by the Red Sox Twitter account, inspired delight and tongue-in-cheek alarm among team officials.
“It was great,” said general manager Brian O’Halloran. “[But] I was very concerned that Chaim might contract some sort of fungus. He was barefoot walking around the clubhouse and I just genuinely don’t think that’s good hygiene.”
Bloom is aware of the infamy of the moment — the absurdity of his barefooted appearance, as well as his fumbling with goggles as Cora extolled his virtues. How much grief has he gotten for the clip?
“Enough,” Bloom chuckled.
Of course, any mild embarrassment is dwarfed by appreciation for Cora’s gesture and what it symbolized. Bloom made a point of whisking the lineup card to a safe, dry space before joining in the celebration, the first of three champagne volcanoes to erupt in the Red Sox clubhouse in the span of nine days.
“Caught me off-guard with that one. I did not know that was going to happen,” said Bloom. “I think he understood what [the presentation of the lineup card] symbolized for the totality of the roster we put together, all 56 players that we used, everything that went into putting it together — not just by me, but by our department. I think he got that. And it was really emotional for me that he chose to express it that way.”
While the Red Sox are now preparing for the American League Championship Series, just four wins from advancing to the World Series, it’s been a challenging year. They matched a franchise record by using 56 players and set one by employing 33 pitchers (not counting the four position players who pitched). Their trade deadline — when they added an injured All-Star (Kyle Schwarber) as well as a pair of struggling relievers (Hansel Robles and Austin Davis) — was viewed as anticlimactic, not just by the public but in some corners of their clubhouse.
Then, after the Rays and Yankees zoomed past the Red Sox in August, the team was confronted with a constant scramble that at times rendered them unrecognizable over the final six weeks of the season as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak.
Leaks sprang everywhere. Patching them required cooperation between the front office and manager’s office, something that had to be developed on the fly.
“Any time you have a first year for someone in my chair and someone in his chair working together, there’s a learning process that takes place for both of us with each other. And some things you can only learn just by going through the fire,” said Bloom. “There were a lot of different challenges this year. I think we were able to lean on each other, to bounce things off each other, to learn from each other.”
Part of the disbelief surrounding the advance to the ALCS stems from how often they teetered on the precipice but did not plummet. Balance was maintained by an unlikely breadth of contributors from inside and outside the organization.
The ability to keep adding players is a reflection of Bloom’s restless approach. His style of building has been the antithesis of that of predecessor Dave Dombrowski.
Dombrowski inherited a deep roster and added stars to serve as finishing complements to a team that steamrolled to the 2018 title; he rarely tinkered at the edges. Bloom has moved on from some of those stars while concentrating on strengthening the broader organizational structure.
Of the 56 players to appear in big league games this year, 36 were brought into the organization after Bloom’s hiring in October 2019. That turnover reflected Bloom’s mission to build depth, to see every spot on the roster as subject to upgrade.
Yet Cora is a critical part of the success of that strategy. He’s exceptional at working not just with players but also the front office. In many ways, Cora’s presentation of the lineup card to Bloom reflected an organizational strength that proved critical to navigating the hidden hazards of 2021.
“Alex is such a partner for us,” said O’Halloran. “It took 56 players this year … For us in the front office to have a great partner like Alex who gets the big picture and knows how to balance all the things we have to balance, it’s huge to have that synergy throughout the organization.”
The Red Sox enjoyed remarkable stability in some areas, particularly with anchors Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, and (save for a 10-day absence after testing positive for COVID-19) Xander Bogaerts. Moreover, the health of the rotation — particularly Nate Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nick Pivetta, and once he returned from Tommy John surgery, Chris Sale — gave the team a reliable group that provided an adequate number of competitive (and, in the case of Eovaldi, elite) innings to keep the team in games on most nights.
Yet the rest of the roster turned over in sweeping fashion. The trade deadline brought one round of changes by choice. The COVID-19 outbreak brought another by necessity.
Yairo Muñoz, Jonathan Araúz, Jack López, Taylor Motter, and José Iglesias joined the lineup at various points. Brad Peacock, Connor Seabold, and Kutter Crawford were pressed into duty as emergency starters.
The bullpen — with first-half stalwarts Matt Barnes, Adam Ottavino, Hirokazu Sawamura, and Josh Taylor afflicted by injuries, COVID-19 infections, exhaustion following the workload jump from 60 to 162 games, or all of the above — had to turn over, with key innings entrusted to Robles, Ryan Brasier, Phillips Valdez, Stephen Gonsalves, Raynel Espinal, and more.
The transactions came at such a furious pace that director of major league operations Mike Regan wondered if he’d need to spend part of his wedding weekend in early September helping to process moves. (Bloom and other officials mandated that he tap out, with Alex Gimenez assuming greater responsibility.)
Yet the Sox did not crumble. Through a period of instability, they did not become destabilized. From the time that Kiké Hernández tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 27 through the end of the regular season, they went 19-14 — a testament to the toughness of players who spoke often of a “next man up” outlook, of an organization that kept finding reinforcements, and of a manager/front office partnership that helped anchor a team through a period of chaos.
For that, Cora was happy to present Bloom with a lineup card, and Bloom was happy to receive it, even if it meant amusement at his expense on social media.
“I didn’t know it was being filmed. I didn’t know I was going to be presented with the lineup card. I recognize, especially in retrospect, it was kind of a gross thing. But I wasn’t too concerned about that at the time,” said Bloom. “I had a brief out-of-body experience just taking it all in. When the baseball gods give you a chance to celebrate, you should. It’s a really fortunate thing every time it happens. It’s the players’ celebration, but we get to be a part of it on the periphery and celebrate with each other a little bit. And I think it’d be a shame to miss an opportunity to do that.”