At the conclusion of the press release announcing the firing of Dave Dombrowski, the news was tucked into the penultimate paragraph as almost an afterthought: The Red Sox baseball operations department would be overseen by its three assistant general managers, Brian O’Halloran, Eddie Romero, and Zack Scott.
“In addition,” the press release read, “Senior Vice President of Major and Minor League Operations Raquel Ferreira will take on an expanded role within the transition team.”
That sentence represented a landmark in sports. Already, Ferreira was just the third female senior vice-president of baseball operations in MLB history. Five years earlier, when she’d been elevated to VP status, Yankees assistant GM Jean Afterman reached out with an e-mail to celebrate the moment. The message: “Welcome to the brotherhood.”
For “the brotherhood” and for the sport, Ferreira’s elevated status within the transition team – membership in the Red Sox “Gang of Four,” Afterman joked, with a nod to the leaders of China’s Cultural Revolution — marks an enormous development.
“Somebody actually asked me, ‘Does this mean she’s going to be involved in baseball operations?’ I was like, ‘What the [expletive]? She is baseball operations,’ ” said Afterman. “The more visible women are in baseball operations, the more it alters a landscape. My hat’s off to the Red Sox. The way they announced it . . . it says in black and white that here’s this woman, an SVP, who’s in charge of major league and minor league operations. It’s a meaty job. I think that for her to be sitting at the table, for the Red Sox to trust her to sit at that table, is really important.”
Her position at the table has few parallels in front office circles.
New world of opportunity
Ferreira’s grandmother, Constance Silva, came to the United States from Cape Verde in hopes of building a better life for her family, with plans for her husband and eight children to follow. Silva was soon joined in New Bedford by two of her children — including Ferreira’s mother, Lotty. The three of them worked in a factory, saving and sending their money back to Cape Verde until the rest of the family could afford to move to the States.
Her father, Gamaliel Ferreira (“Gammy”), likewise immigrated at a young age. After he and Lotty married and then built their own family in Rhode Island (Pawtucket and then Cumberland), he took a number of jobs to support it.
To his children, including Raquel, Gammy shared a Portuguese pearl of wisdom about the value of professional commitment and why he did not shy from a job cleaning toilets or working in a factory (one where he was eventually elevated to supervisor): There’s no shame in any work that you do, but it’s a shame not to work.
Gammy and Lotty Ferreira encouraged their children to pursue their passions, to work in the professions where they wanted a job with a belief that talent and hard work could allow them to grow. Those beliefs accompanied Raquel Ferreira when she started as an administrative assistant for the Red Sox in 1999, as did another.
“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” Ferreira — who declined to be interviewed out of respect for the sensitivity of the organization’s transition — relayed last month at the SaberSeminar at Boston University. “My dad would cut the lawn in a tie and shirt because he did a job. I didn’t see my dad wear shorts until I was probably in my late 20s. My parents took pride in everything they did, from the way they walked out of the house to the way they dressed.
“Always keep that mind-set of being a professional at all times — especially if you’re a woman, because unfortunately you’re judged harshly. You’re judged unfairly. It’s not right,” she added. “But because you’re a woman operating in a man’s world, people look at you differently . . . We live in a world where you’re labeled all the time — on the field, off the field . . . I wanted to always make sure that my label was something I was always proud of.”
Rising in the ranks
The impression Ferreira made was a powerful one. The combination of talent, precision, authenticity, accountability, and directness stood out.
“She tells it like it is,” said Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy. “No B.S.”
When Theo Epstein was hired as GM and Ben Cherington installed as director of player development, Ferreira moved up to director of minor league administration — a role that included managing the operations of Sox minor league affiliates, handling transactions, overseeing payroll for minor leaguers, as well as immigration and visa issues, among many others.
In that capacity, Cherington once said, Ferreira never made a mistake — extraordinary given the volume of tasks. Yet she also recognized more significant ways to make an impact.
Through the experiences of her parents, Ferreira could relate to young players about the challenges they faced in being away from and trying to support their families, often while living outside the country of their upbringings. And so, she assumed an ill-defined yet enormously significant role of ensuring that the organization would treat its minor leaguers like adopted sons, offering as much off-field support as possible to permit players the greatest chance of on-field success.
“Raquel embodies the culture of our organization,” said Kennedy. “She cares passionately about the organization and its people.”
As her family had counseled, the quality of Ferreira’s work permitted her to advance through numerous promotions in the team’s minor league operations before the elevation to VP of baseball administration in late 2014, and entry into the “brotherhood” with Afterman and Kim Ng, a former Yankees assistant GM who had moved into Major League Baseball’s front office by that time.
Ferreira was elevated to the position of SVP of major and minor league operations after the 2018 season, a role in which she oversees the team’s baseball operations budget and day-to-day, off-field activities. In that position, she already made a considerable impact at the start of 2019.
“I’ll tell you flat-out: [The Xander Bogaerts] deal would not have gotten done without Raquel, her leadership, her relationship with Xander, the trust and candor that they had with each other,” said Kennedy.
The same trust that allowed Ferreira to help convince Bogaerts to remain in Boston as part of the Red Sox’ future extends to homegrown players such as Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Matt Barnes, and Christian Vazquez, who have known Ferreira since their first days in pro ball. Those relationships are precisely why she’s been asked to help stabilize the organization — along with longtime colleagues O’Halloran, Scott, and Romero — during a time of change.
“It was a natural fit,” said Kennedy.
“We wanted to make sure that during the transition, the leadership of the department was handling all baseball operations matters and nothing fell through the cracks. We tried as much as possible to be conducting business as usual. Raquel has been here the longest. She has the deepest relationships throughout the entire organization of anyone.
“She, simply put, is a leader. People look to her for input and direction and guidance. It was a complete and total no-brainer.”
Beyond the Red Sox
Ferreira has been an organizational anchor for more than two decades, her tenure predating that of the current Red Sox owners. Still, most of her work has been behind the scenes — an enormous presence inside the organization, little known outside of it.
With her explicitly stated role as a key figure in the transition, that has changed, in a way that is significant beyond Fenway Park.
“She has been a backbone of that club for over 20 years,” said MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem. “She hasn’t received a lot of public attention . . . But it is good that her profile publicly, outwardly is being raised by Boston’s decision to put her in the leadership group during the transition period.”
MLB has been engaged for some time in a number of diversity initiatives, including efforts to get women into growth positions both in front offices and on the field. With undertakings such as the MLB Diversity Fellowship Program, the league has been trying to broaden the demographics of front offices from the ground up. Ferreira now stands as an example of what is possible – joining a prominent baseball organization in an entry level position and to rise within it.
“From MLB’s perspective, having a female in a high-profile, leadership role, particularly on the baseball ops side of clubs, is extremely important for us,” said Halem.
“There are no barriers in this day and age to you becoming a general manager and a president of baseball operations. I am 100 percent optimistic that in five years, seven years, ten years, when we’re having this conversation again, the numbers [of women in senior leadership positions] will look different.”
Such a development is likewise important to Ferreira, who has an 11-year-old daughter, Gabriella.
“I constantly tell her, ‘Don’t ever let someone tell you you can’t do something because you’re a girl,’” Ferreira said at the SaberSeminar.
“I have to be more conscious of putting myself [in a visible position] – not for self-promotion – but for showing other people, especially somebody my daughter’s age, or girls in her classroom, that you can do this.
“It’s hard. You work hard at it. But you can do it if you put your mind to it.”
Ferreira serves as a testament to those notions, a fact that raises the possibility of growth in the “brotherhood.”
“Nobody did her any favors. She didn’t get there out of nepotism. She was hired and promoted just by virtue of her own talent alone. In baseball, that’s kind of a remarkable thing – male or female. It’s amazing and a really great thing for the baseball industry and women in sports – and unfortunately,” Afterman, the Yankees assistant GM, said with a laugh, “for the Red Sox.”