Red Sox’s Raquel Ferreira breaks through baseball’s glass ceiling

A child of immigrants is now the highest-ranking woman in baseball

BOSTON — We’re at Fenway Park, sitting with Raquel Ferreira in the team’s executive suite adjacent to the press box. The season just ended, so the stands are empty and the field, still emerald green, is empty except for the tarps covering the mound and the plate.

Just a month ago, the Boston Red Sox made history when they named Ferreira, a senior vice president, part of the team’s interim leadership group, the “gang of four” that took the reins from exiting general manager Dave Dombrowski. (Ferreira’s three cohorts are assistant general managers Eddie Romero, Brian O’Halloran and Zack Scott.) In her newly expanded role, Ferreira became, at least for now, the highest-ranking woman in baseball operations. The move not only is a capstone for 20 years of service to the team but, more importantly, put a woman in charge of a major league club’s front office during the regular season.

“She is a star who represents everything our organization values.” — Red Sox owner John Henry on Raquel Ferreira

According to the principal owner of the Red Sox, John Henry, putting Ferreira, 48, on the leadership team was a no-brainer. “I met with Raquel for a lengthy discussion of her career and experiences at the Red Sox,” he told The Undefeated in an email. “The longer we spoke the more apparent it was to me that if changes were going to occur, she had earned a leadership role. She was already overseeing minor and major league operations logistically among other duties.

“So [it] was an easy decision,” he wrote. “She is a star who represents everything our organization values.”

Chicago Cubs general manager Theo Epstein held the general manager job in Boston from 2002 to 2011 and was Ferreira’s boss during those years. He promoted her twice, having recognized her ability to bond with players.

“She’s the most empathetic person there,” he told The Undefeated. “She puts herself in the shoes of the players and understands what they must be feeling, where they came from, how foreign the organization must seem to them, what it’s like to be away from home for the first time. Not just players from the Dominican [Republic], but we draft 17- and 18-year-old high school kids [from the United States]. All of them have a significant adjustment period. Raquel does a great job of understanding that.”

Ben Cherington, the vice president of baseball operations for the Toronto Blue Jays, succeeded Epstein as general manager of the Red Sox from 2011 to 2015. “Players are human beings and they need to feel a sense of connection, and they need to feel valued,” he said. “Raquel played a huge role in humanizing what we were trying to do in helping them grow as baseball players and as people.”

It’s no coincidence that Ferreira interacts so well with young players and foreign-born players, easing their entry into the U.S. and, ultimately, the city of Boston. She herself is the child of immigrants. Her grandparents and her parents emigrated from the Cape Verde islands, a former Portuguese colony off the coast of West Africa. Their struggles, more than anything else, have shaped the way Ferreira sees the world.

She shares how her father, Gammy, and her mother, Lotty, arrived in the U.S. when they were still in their teens. They met in their adopted country and raised a family in Cumberland, Rhode Island. At one point, they were both working in factories — Gammy in a manufacturing plant, Lotty in a textile mill — taking opposite shifts so that one of them was always home with Raquel; her brother, David; and sisters, Eunice and Melinda. Her mother, a skilled dressmaker who eventually opened her own shop, installed herself between two English-speaking co-workers to learn the language.

Raquel Ferreira’s work ethic can be traced back to her parents, Lotty (left) and Gammy (right), who emigrated from Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony off the coast of West Africa.

Courtesy of Raquel Ferreira

“Oh, my God, I have all the respect in the world for my parents. My whole family was about sacrificing for their kids and their grandkids,” Ferreira says. “One summer, when I was 16 or 17, I worked at my dad’s plant. I would sit there and take these perfume caps off of this conveyor belt. They had gold rims, and you had to make sure the rims went all the way around. If there was a break in it, you threw it to the side. Then you put the caps in a box and waited for somebody to come and inspect them. I was like, ‘I am not doing this.’ But I told myself, I have to, my dad works here. So I went in there every day. I showed up early and wanted my boxes to be the best boxes that were packed because I had to represent my dad.”

It seems as if Ferreira’s work ethic has never waned. We mention that Epstein spoke about how she was the last to leave the office, that he would wrap up at 10 at night and she’d still be at her desk.

She shrugs it off, noting that she was no early bird. She’s also quick to praise her husband, Erik Stamps, with whom she is raising their 11-year-old daughter, Gabriella. Stamps, she says, doesn’t get enough credit for putting up with the extended hours she spends with her “other family.”

Epstein promoted her twice, first to director of minor league administration and then to director of minor league operations. She tells us about one of her first interactions with him after Henry purchased the team. The staff figured there would be changes, and many in the front office were on edge.

“He told me, ‘There’s going to be an org [organizational] chart floating around and you’re going to see your name on it,’ ” she tells us, her eyes wide. “In my head I’m thinking thank God, I still have a job. So he shows me the chart, and my title reads ‘Director, Minor League Administration.’ I looked at it and said, ‘Are you sure?’

“I thought people were going to be mad,” she says. “I thought they’d say, ‘Wait a minute, she went from administrative assistant to a director?’ I was more concerned about what others thought than what I was capable of doing.

“He said, ‘If anybody’s mad, you tell them to come talk to me.’

“I said, two or three times, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure?’

“And he said, ‘Absolutely.’ ”

Epstein shared a similar story, wrapping up his version with this observation: “As the years went on, she became the backbone of all of player development. And then, over time, she became part of the fabric of all of baseball operations. And so, her perspective, her knowledge and her wisdom were desired in every decision.”

Ferreira started with the Red Sox in 1999, seven years after graduating from the University of Rhode Island with a bachelor’s degree in communications. Since then, she has had more titles than she can remember: administrative assistant, director of minor league administration, director of minor league operations, senior director of minor league operations, vice president of baseball administration, vice president of major and minor league operations, senior vice president of major and minor league operations.

Kent Qualls, now with the Baltimore Orioles, joined the Red Sox in 1995, and four years later, as director of player development, he was the person responsible for bringing Ferreira to the team. Looking to replace a retiring staff member who’d booked travel, he whittled down a slew of applicants to a handful of interviews.

Ferreira had no previous baseball experience. But she was a fan of the sport, having grown up watching the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, and her brother David in little league.

The Boston Red Sox made history in September when they named Raquel Ferreira part of the team’s interim leadership group. Ferreira (center) is seen here with members of the Red Sox baseball operations crew at the wedding of Amiel Sawdaye, then the team’s vice president of amateur scouting and now the assistant general manager for the Arizona Diamondbacks. She is now the highest-ranking woman in baseball operations.

Courtesy Raquel Ferreira

“It was a position where you had to interact with a lot of different people: players, coaches, families, front office,” Qualls said. “She immediately embraced it and picked up the job very quickly. It was obvious that she was going to do well in baseball.”

Still, he said, it would’ve been nearly impossible to predict her rise through the ranks. “I knew that, if she wanted to, she could stay and work in baseball for a long time and would have a bright future. But she’s taken it to another level, obviously. It’s just been remarkable.”

No woman has ever been a general manager, and even the highest-ranking women in baseball still say they’re fighting to belong. According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, in 2018, 29 of baseball’s 30 clubs had at least one woman serving in a vice president or senior vice president role. But aside from Ferreira, only Jean Afterman, assistant general manager of the New York Yankees, is in baseball operations.

Kim Ng, a senior vice president with Major League Baseball, came close to breaking the barrier. In 2005, Ng, then an assistant general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers, stepped in as co-interim general manager during the winter meetings and interviewed for the permanent position. She has since met with several other teams, most recently the New York Mets, but has yet to win the job.

“Women in this industry, what few of us there are, really need to prove ourselves on a daily basis,” Ng said. “Every day you get tested — sometimes in very explicit ways, sometimes in more covert ways — whether it’s someone on the staff you’re familiar with or someone you don’t know very well. They automatically think you are on the administrative side, that you’re not a decision-maker, that you are, quote, support. Those are the things that face us on a daily basis.”

Ferreira’s career in the front office has brought her four World Series rings. But gender is still an issue, she acknowledges.

“It’s extremely frustrating because you’re always fighting stereotypes,” she says. “People use different words to describe you. If a man comes into a room and he’s excited about something, and really fighting for something, people will say, ‘Wow, he is so passionate about this topic.’ If I do the same, it’s, ‘Raquel, stop being so emotional.’

“You are constantly in a room with just men, and you are forever reminded of it. Even if you try and pretend to be one of the boys, or you think that you are, you will never be one of them. And it’s not bad, but you’re just not going to be and you shouldn’t try to be.

“A scout or somebody else will start talking, and they’ll curse, and they’ll say, ‘Sorry, Raquel.’ So I’ll say, ‘Don’t f—ing worry about it.’ Stop saying you’re sorry, because you saying you’re sorry just draws attention to the fact that I’m the only woman in the room, which is what I don’t want.”

Her gender never held her back, she says, but then she mentions how grateful she was when Epstein dropped the word “administrative” from her title. (The word reappeared on her business card when she became vice president of baseball administration but was dropped again when she advanced to vice president of major and minor league operations.)

“I just wanted to take on more responsibility instead of seeing ‘administrative’ next to my name,” she says. “Because with that comes a certain connotation, especially in baseball, which is hard to kick once you have it. Even after I was a director for five or six years, people would say, ‘Oh, Raquel’s the secretary of whatever.’ I’d be thinking, are you serious? You know what everybody else’s title is, but because I’m a woman, [you’ve forgotten mine].”

Ng believes the sport is ready for its first female general manager — and is rooting for Ferreira. “The criteria that [a general manager be a former player] no longer exists. The criteria that you were a scout or a coach no longer exists. All it’s going to require is an opportunity. That’s all it takes. … Raquel wholeheartedly has my support.”

Epstein could also envision Ferreira as general manager. “It’s going to take someone with vision to make it happen. … The job of GM these days is so big that you’re not doing it yourself. You’re managing people, building the right kind of system, developing consensus, seeing the big picture, making calm, rational decisions and moving forward together under a common vision. Raquel is outstanding at doing all those things.”

Cherington agrees with Epstein. “The big part of the job is building the team around you, complementing yourself with the strength and skills that you don’t have.”

Ferreira is generally credited with Xander Bogaerts signing a six-year, $120 million extension with the team and is now one of the main players in the team’s efforts to retain 2018 American League MVP Mookie Betts.

In September, Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy told The Boston Globe, “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.”

“I first met Raquel in Fort Myers at the old complex of ours,” Bogaerts wrote in an email from his native Aruba. “She was really helpful in helping me get familiar with everyone in the organization and teaching me how to do stuff the right way… She was like my mom away from home. She’s a very straightforward person, very honest. … She builds a trustworthy relationship from when we’re young boys until we become grown men. She is one of a kind.”

A team source said the Red Sox aren’t planning to name a new general manager soon, in part because they may consider people who are still involved in the postseason.

Could it be Ferreira? She says she’d be open to the position but “wouldn’t embrace it.” She believes there are still aspects of the job she needs to master.

Of course, she had similar trepidation when Epstein took out that organizational chart nearly 20 years ago.

John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro are the authors of ‘One Nation Under Baseball: How the 1960s Collided with the National Pastime,’ and ‘One Punch from the Promised Land: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title.’ They have also written the young adult book, ‘War in the Ring: Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Fight Between America and Hitler.’