Chaim Bloom is ready for whatever curve balls are thrown his way
If jars of gefilte fish have expiration dates, Chaim Bloom does not want to know.
Bloom, a career-long baseball operations staffer and executive, gained attention in the Jewish press when it was revealed that he kept a 10-year-old jar of gefilte fish in his office. The product of Passover-time agreement, Bloom and his colleagues at the Tampa Bay Rays promised to share the divisive delicacy should they win the World Series.
Like the Hebrews wandering in the desert, it has taken longer than expected.
After 15 years with the Rays — during which he rose from intern to senior vice president for baseball operations — Bloom, 37, was hired by the division rival Boston Red Sox in October to be their next chief baseball officer.
Naturally, the ever-ripening gefilte fish traveled with him to Fenway.
Bloom took charge of a team with impressive success in the 21st century. World Series wins in 2004, 2007, 2013 and 2018 made the Red Sox one of the most successful teams over the last 20 years. The always-ravenous New England-wide fanbase was further rewarded with six Super Bowl titles for the Patriots, one Stanley Cup for the Bruins and a Championship title for the Celtics.
For a sports region with such a high pedigree of success in recent years, anything less than a title is considered an off-year. With a market of critical sports columnists and talk-radio hosts that can make Capitol Hill reporters seem like Boy Scouts, job security comes at a premium.
While the Red Sox’s achievements abound, the last two World Series wins came amid seasons of underachieving to downright mediocre performances for the team. Dave Dombrowski, Bloom’s predecessor in Boston, was fired in October, just one year after constructing a roster that won a franchise-record 108 games.
Bloom, who speaks in a humble manner, wisely acknowledges the difficulty and scrutiny inherent to his job.
“I think it’s a testament to how much people in this region care about you. And so I view it as a positive that there is that level of interest and that level of passion,” Bloom told Jewish Insider. “You know, it’s certainly a much louder environment, a much more populous environment than I’m used to with the Rays.”
Bloom’s first major act was to trade homegrown superstar and fan-favorite Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Betts, a five-tool outfielder, played with a level of consistency and athleticism that made him a statistical gem — all topped by the perfect baseball name. By all measures, Betts is one of the best players today and was on track to become one of the greatest in franchise history. In the all-important Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric, he trails only Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout since entering the league in 2014. According to Baseball Reference, his 2018 MVP performance ranks second behind Carl Yastrzemski’s 1967 triple-crown performance as the best single season in Red Sox history.
Still, the decision to trade such a rare player was hardly surprising. Betts, whose contract ended after the 2020 season, was set to command an enormous deal. Toward the end of the season, it was widely rumored that the team was seeking to trade Betts rather than risk his leaving after 2020 without gaining anything in return.
When asked, Bloom rejected the presumption that trading Betts came with the job, emphasizing instead that it was a decision made after his arrival.
“It was an extremely difficult thing to do, to move on from him, especially after getting an appreciation of his talents for so many years,” said Bloom. “At the same time, it is something that we felt pretty strongly was the right thing for the organization given the importance of maintaining a sustainable core of talent.”
Still, Bloom recognizes the symbolic importance of exchanging Betts — who was traded along with veteran and former Cy Young award winning pitcher David Price — for three young prospects.
Bloom says he was impressed by the response he received in the clubhouse. “I know it wasn’t easy, but I was really blown away by the professionalism,” he said, “especially doing it so close to spring training and then seeing guys come in and just go about their work.”
A Philadelphia native, Bloom attended Jewish day school before matriculating at Yale University, where he graduated in 2004 with a degree in Latin Classics.
While reading Latin literature endows a knowledge of Roman warfare and the intricate ethics of leadership, a degree in the classics does not immediately translate into a profession obsessed with sabermetrics and advanced statistics.
“I’m not going to lay claim to being any kind of advanced mathematician. I would say it started with a passion for baseball and took a lot of persistence and a whole lot of good fortune,” Bloom explained.
“To the extent that any type of education is supposed to teach you how to learn, I think it’s helped with that,” he added of his studies. “There’s a lot of situations we face in this business and you know, really life, where it’s hard to study them specifically. And what you really need to tackle those situations is the ability to parse the situation, to work through problems creatively, to adapt. And I think the education I got prepared me well to do that.”
He joined the Rays, then known as the Devil Rays, after graduating college during a successful run that saw the team reach its first World Series in 2008. All the while, Bloom rose through the ranks, garnering the respect of his colleagues and the baseball world.
“Chaim is exactly what you’d want in a friend and colleague.” Rays chief baseball officer Matt Silverman told JI. “He’s thoughtful, dependable and full of integrity. And, of course, his intellect and wit are off the charts.”
Though Bloom declined to name his favorite Jewish baseball player — saying he does not “like to play favorites” — Bloom observes the importance of the American pastime when it comes to the American-Jewish experience.
“I do think when you look at the rise of baseball in this country in our society, I think it parallels the story of a lot of Jewish immigration into the country and establishing a larger foothold in the U.S.”
Despite reports, Bloom says he is not Shabbat observant. But the father of two prioritizes returning home for the start of each Shabbat before returning to the ballpark for any night games. In 2011, Bloom notably chose to skip the final game of the season, which coincided with Rosh Hashanah, even though it would decide if the Rays made the playoffs. The Rays ultimately won the game on a dramatic walk-off home run.
Unfortunately, with the delayed and shortened season unlikely to include fans, Bloom has yet to sample Fenway’s kosher offerings, which famously include glatt-kosher hot dogs from a vending machine. But baseball’s most famous Jewish food devotee can speak with certainty about the greater number of kosher choices in his new home city.
When the conversation with JI turned to the social reckoning following the police shooting of George Floyd, Bloom described a direct link between his belief in the need for change and his Jewish heritage.
“I don’t think that one should need a Jewish heritage or any kind of religion to be in favor of justice equality, but I would say, for me personally, there is a very close tie [between] both the values that my religion teaches but also some of the [people] who have been prominent in Judaism over the centuries who have very loudly advocated for the cause of justice. That’s something I carry with me,” Bloom said, adding that “Jews can and should be advocating for justice not just within the Jewish community, but within the community at large.”
As organizations across the country reckon with the imprints of systemic racism, the Red Sox has not been immune. During a series in Boston two years ago, then-Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones reported hearing racist slurs directed at him as he manned Fenway’s center field.
Earlier this month, retired outfielder Torii Hunter told ESPN Radio that he had been subjected to racist epithets “a hundred times” while playing at Fenway, revealing that this led the all-star to include the Red Sox in any no-trade clause.
The Red Sox later confirmed Hunter’s experience as “real,” promising to “identify how we can do better.”
“There’s many things we can do better. I think that’s true for the Red Sox. It’s true for all of us,” Bloom added to JI.
“I think it’s too easy for us, especially those of us who are not affected by it personally on a daily basis because we are white, to forget that it is a pervasive problem in society,” he said. “We can’t forget that, and the only way to ensure that is to devise and take some concrete steps to combat it and to make sure that we’re being as positive and inclusive as we can in the circles where we have sway.”
The Rays and the Red Sox are examples of the two stratified spheres of baseball teams. Though both play in the American League’s East Division, the teams differ significantly in style and look. According to The Associated Press, the Red Sox opening-day payroll in 2019 was baseball’s highest, at just over $220 million, while the Rays payroll was the lowest, at just over $60 million. The Rays consistently struggle to fill seats in Tropicana Field, the enclosed, artificial turf stadium in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, the Red Sox routinely sell out Fenway Park, the vintage, old-timey and unequivocally beautiful ballpark nestled into the surrounding Boston neighborhood that shares its name.
In a league without a salary cap, the difference between top and bottom paying teams is huge — even if it does not reflect as much in the standings. Whereas the Rays rely almost exclusively on a minor league farm system and savvy trades to procure new talent, the Red Sox have the added advantage of using their seemingly infinite resources to sign the league’s best stars.
Asked to describe the transition, Bloom gamely and diplomatically offers: “Every organization, every market is different. Everybody has their own strengths and new challenges.”
Taking on the responsibility to run the Red Sox right now comes with a host of challenges.
During his four-year tenure, Dombrowski employed a strategy of welcoming expensive signings and prospect-draining trades. The upside was a World Series win. The downside, now playing out, is a depleted farm system, onerous contracts for aging or injury-riddled stars and an overall bloated payroll. Even after trading Betts, the roster is still stocked with young, homegrown talent quickly approaching the expiration of rookie contracts and free agency.
Now, the impending need to revive the farm system while managing future monetary demands of emerging talent like Jackie Bradley, Jr., Andrew Benintendi, and Rafael Devers places notable constraints on the team’s present and future return to World Series contention.
In the near-term, the more looming challenge remains the interruption caused by COVID-19, which prematurely shut down the start of spring training in March. “There’s no question that it is really hamstringing us and all 30 organizations,” Bloom explained. “One, we can’t be physically with our players….Two, we can’t have them experience the same type of feedback that they normally get through competition.”
The ripple effects will likely be felt for years to come. While the major league season is scheduled to begin in late July, the minor leagues will likely remain shuttered. This marks a potentially significant disruption for the all-important development of young players.
While the Red Sox tests programs for remote instruction, Bloom admits that the baseball world cannot easily predict the impact of the shutdown.
“It’s a unique challenge and an interesting one,” he told JI. “I think it has provided a lot of motivation for our staff during this layoff.”
Still, despite the challenges — including the loss of Betts — Bloom professes optimism for the upcoming season. He called last season’s 84 wins for the team “artificially low,” claiming that — despite losing Betts — the team remains “more talented than that.”
With the season shortened from 162 games to only 60, the unpredictability has everyone guessing. “I’m looking forward to watching this group compete because then I do get a chance to surprise people.”
Only time will tell if the prodigy can turn his optimism into success. Luckily, he keeps his gefilte fish jar close at hand in his office.
Bloom acknowledges that opinions differ over whether the initial fishy agreement covers only a Rays championship or whether the jurisdiction travels within the league. For now, he seems to leave those questions to the Judaic baseball scholars, adding simply “I’d love to win one here and figure that out then.”
In the meantime, the jar remains unopened in Bloom’s Fenway Park office, continuing to refine its delicate flavor.