On Friday afternoon, members of the Red Sox baseball operations department assembled inside Fenway Park to discuss the new direction of the organization. With rumors spreading, the Red Sox wanted to be transparent and wanted their own employees to hear first-hand about the plans.
Yes, confirmed assistant general manager Brian O’Halloran — one of the four members of the department who’d taken a transitional leadership role — Chaim Bloom was coming on board from the Tampa Bay Rays, news that was greeted with enthusiasm but also some reserve.
“Everyone is anxious because they don’t know Chaim,” said assistant GM Zack Scott. “We told them, ‘He’s great. You’re going to love him.’ But there’s still tension in the room.”
It wouldn’t last. Scott and senior vice president Raquel Ferreira, who’d also been part of the four-person interim team, nudged O’Halloran. There was more to announce.
“We were like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ ” recounted Scott.
O’Halloran didn’t want to say anything about himself, so Ferreira took the floor. Bloom was coming in as the chief baseball officer. O’Halloran, meanwhile, was being promoted to general manager.
The room exploded in applause.
“There was genuine emotion,” said vice president of pro scouting Gus Quattlebaum.
“You could feel it,” said Scott. “People were relieved and happy for him. Everyone respects the hell out of Brian.”
That respect has been hard-earned.
O’Halloran, 48, spent years in Russia in the 1990s before getting an MBA from UCLA. As an unpaid Padres intern in early 2002, O’Halloran worked with Theo Epstein and Sam Kennedy. When he and his wife Jean moved back to Massachusetts in 2002, he wanted to continue his pursuit of a baseball job, but didn’t know whether he had a future in the game.
“I wasn’t certain that it would be, because there were other complicating factors, but I hoped it would be and I felt it would be,” said O’Halloran.
He reached out to Epstein, then assistant GM of the Red Sox. Epstein couldn’t offer a paid position or even an internship, as the baseball operations department literally didn’t have a desk available. The best he could offer was a unique arrangement.
The team had one BATS video system for charting games, located at the desk of then-intern Jed Hoyer. At a time when there was no Statcast or video service to chart pitches, Hoyer spent his days — typically starting around 9 a.m. and ending around 11 p.m. or midnight — logging pitch location and type.
The presence of a desktop computer, a TV and computer monitor, and a VHS player left Hoyer’s space so cramped that he had to prop his feet on the cubicle wall at a 90-degree angle; his legs wouldn’t fit beneath his desk. A time-share of this space was what the Sox could offer O’Halloran.
About 20-30 minutes before his nightly departure, Hoyer would call O’Halloran, who was essentially volunteering without an official role. O’Halloran would arrive at the office with a tuna sandwich and bag of Doritos and work, often alone, for several hours charting PawSox games.
“The graveyard shift,” said Hoyer. “I remember thinking, ‘This [expletive] is dedicated.’ ”
“He would sneak in under the dark of night to work,” said Ferreira. “For about a month, he would come in and I was like, ‘Who is this guy with the backpack?’ He looked like he was about 12 years old.”
While O’Halloran expressed a youthful exuberance — though it was hard to summon on some days while working as a substitute teacher, with his wife in grad school — he also recognized the uniqueness of his opportunity. An unpaid and unglamorous nighttime shift represented a crack in the door.
By the end of the year, when Epstein had been named GM, the Sox gave O’Halloran a job as a baseball operations assistant.
“He just kept showing up doing that until we had no choice but to start paying him something,” texted former Sox GM Ben Cherington.
For O’Halloran, his title didn’t matter. He wasn’t viewing the opportunity as a first step on a GM ladder. Employment in baseball, with the organization for which he’d rooted as a kid, meant everything.
“I have been in my dream job since 2002,” said O’Halloran. “Just working in baseball was my goal, being a part of something special, working with a great group of people.
“I’ve honestly never focused on any particular role, position, or title. I’ve just wanted to be a part of a group of people working together to achieve great things and win a championship.”
He’s done just that as a respected front office teammate for 17 years, with growing responsibilities in baseball operations.
His work ethic remains legendary. In 2014, ulcerative colitis required surgery to remove his colon. He worked from his hospital bed while recovering, and at one point left the hospital for a meeting with Cherington and team owners with an IV line in his arm.
“I felt Ben needed one of us there,” O’Halloran shrugged.
Much of his work has come in contract negotiations — an area in which his tenacity so impressed Dave Dombrowski that the former president of baseball operations started calling him “Bulldog” — and a mastery of baseball rules, particularly critical for an organization that frequently dances with luxury-tax concerns. But O’Halloran also has had a significant role in organizing the medical, sport science, and behavioral health departments.
Yet his impact has stretched beyond that. Front office members routinely rely on him for advice and perspective, grateful for his organizational perspective, insight, measured tone, and ability to avoid the emotional swings that typically accompany sports.
“His role is pretty profound,” said Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen. “People trust him for his opinion and advice on all things.”
He is described as meticulous, trustworthy, thoughtful, and selfless — characteristics that have endeared him not only to baseball operations leaders such as Epstein, Cherington, Hazen, and Dombrowski but also four Red Sox managers.
“He’s the only one I can recall from group I was around (including me) who was enthusiastically welcomed by every manager and clubhouse over the years (even Bobby V!),” texted Cherington.
Yet for most of his Red Sox career, O’Halloran has remained nearly invisible publicly.
(His Russian fluency arguably made him a person of greater interplanetary than earthbound renown: Epstein once took part in a call with an astronaut on the Space Station only on the condition that O’Halloran could communicate with members of the crew in Russian.)
His lack of interest in ever leaving the Red Sox has left him unmentioned at times of front office vacancies.
Kennedy, the team’s president/CEO, said O’Halloran lacks name recognition “because he’s the most selfless, humble person you’ll ever meet. He focuses exclusively on one thing: ‘How do I make the Red Sox better? I don’t care what it means for me.’ ”
Yet O’Halloran’s reputation in the industry is significant. Yankees assistant GM Jean Afterman compared O’Halloran’s ability to survive and remain valuable over numerous regime changes to that of Talleyrand, an 18th- and 19th-century French politician and diplomat. Agents rave about him despite an adversarial relationship.
After Dombrowski was fired in September and the Red Sox entrusted their baseball operations to the four-person team, O’Halloran’s ability to play a huge role in understated fashion made a considerable impression on his bosses.
“Even though the four of them were equals, he was the de facto leader,” said principal owner John Henry, who also owns the Globe. “He has such strong relationships.”
Bloom, meanwhile, knew O’Halloran as one of “the most respected and trustworthy executives in the game,” and recognized that his new colleague’s institutional trust and knowledge were tremendous assets for an organizational newcomer and reassurance for the group that he’ll now guide.
O’Halloran’s elevation represents stability — and a sense that hard work in service of the Red Sox eventually will gain its due, and that members of the front office will have a trusted leader while getting to know a new one.
“We say leaders are born and not made; he was born to be a leader, whether or not he put himself in the front for that [GM] position or not,” said Ferreira. “I can’t imagine the Red Sox without him and I wouldn’t want to. We would be far less of an organization if he wasn’t around.”