In the silence leading up to ALDS Game 1, Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom sat together for a moment on the upper deck of Tropicana Field. This was, in a sense, completely normal: the two of them had seen hundreds of games side by side in this building. But they had never done it like this.
For more than a decade, Neander and Bloom were partners in the Tampa Bay front office, playing the game together. Now, they were preparing to see a playoff series from opposite sides for the first time: Neander as the leader of the Rays’ baseball operations and Bloom in the equivalent role of the Red Sox.
Bloom’s Red Sox won the best-of-five series in four games. It was a sign of how deeply the Rays’ style has taken hold in MLB. (Consider that the other ALDS featured an Astros team led by his former Tampa Bay co-worker James Click, while his former boss, Andrew Friedman, was once again leading their current champion Dodgers into the NLDS.) It was also, from a personal point of view, a little weird.
“Erik is like my brother,” said Bloom. “We grew up in this game together. We are so close “.
Until recently, their careers took paths that made them look like not just brothers, but twins. They are the same age, 38, born less than three months apart. Both men started with the Rays as interns: Bloom in 2005 and Neander in 2007. They worked together to move up the ranks and, by 2012, both held the title of director of baseball operations. In 2014, after Friedman left for Los Angeles, the two were promoted on the same day to become joint vice presidents of baseball operations. But after the 2016 season, their paths began to diverge slightly: Bloom became senior vice president of baseball operations, while Neander became senior vice president of baseball operations. and General Manager. (The story of their careers is, more than anything, a snapshot of the myriad expanded titles that have evolved in the game over the past decade.) Since then, Neander has changed the “general manager” part of his title to “president of baseball operations” and signed a multi-year extension. Meanwhile, Bloom left to become the Red Sox’s director of baseball in 2019.
Which led to that quiet moment together a few hours before Game 1 in St. Petersburg. They reached it. They took a photo together. And then they went their separate ways for what became a roller coaster of a series.
“We both want to win,” Neander said. “But we both really appreciate, as friends, the roles we’re in. It’s great.”
If the Rays head office has a brand of its own – smart, successful and always, always made cheaply, in a way that people tend to absolutely admire or hate, there are strands of that DNA that are already evident in both Bloom’s Socks. Rojas and Astros from Click. Part of that is an emphasis on developing versatile players and roles. Another part, for Bloom, is a collaborative team environment.
“There’s a lot of talk about all the innovative things the Rays do, how they use information, and what I hope this highlights is how important culture is,” Bloom said of the way Tampa Bay’s top hires have spread. by MLB. “I feel lucky that this is how I was raised in the game. Not so for everyone in this industry, I know. I know how lucky I am and how lucky I was to not only grow up there, but also to have the lifelong friends I have. “
Bloom and the Red Sox are now moving to the American League Championship Series, where, as Neander and the Rays did in 2020, they will face Click and the Astros. The first game in that series is Friday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston. (Click spent 14 years with Tampa Bay before being hired to replace Jeff Luhnow last year in Houston; he became vice president of baseball operations with the Rays when Bloom and Neander became senior vice presidents.) Former longtime co-worker in the playoffs, well, Bloom got practice at the ALDS. And, Neander jokes, Bloom has an advantage in this ALCS that she did not have in 2020: It is much easier to be in this situation when ballparks return to full capacity, rather than under the pandemic conditions of last year, when the reception offices watched alone. in the discomfort of empty stadiums.
“If you spend any time in this game, you compete against a lot of your close friends,” says Bloom. “And this is a particularly cute example of that.”
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.