Raquel Ferreira, Earning Her Respect
Do not be misled by the fact that Mookie Betts is so fond of Raquel Ferreira that he calls her “Mama Bear.” Or that he is hardly alone, among Red Sox players who came up through the team’s minor-league system, in his affection for her.
“She comes up to you and talks to you from the bottom of her heart,’’ says Hanley Ramirez, who has known Ferreira for the better part of 15 years, longer than anyone else on the team. “She talks to you like a little brother, a son.’’
Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Dustin Pedroia, so many others regard her as a confidant, a friend, a person to turn to, especially when they’re dealing with the rough patches of being a professional ballplayer, the ones that occur both on and off the field.
“She can see on my face whenever I’m having a tough time,’’ said Bogaerts, who found in Ferreira a comforting presence when his grandmother died recently. “She is guaranteed, 100 percent, a go-to lady.’’
But before you get too warm and fuzzy, remember this: Bears have teeth, too. They are strong and resourceful. They are survivors, in the most challenging environments. Raquel Ferreira, one of only three women ever to ascend to the level of vice president in a Major League Baseball operations department, is all of these things, too.
Yes, she has embraced the role of being the person players can turn to, as Bradley says, “because we just know she always has our backs.’’
“That’s who I am,’’ she said.
But when some tough love is required, well, that’s who she is, too.
“I’ve yelled at Xander, I’ve yelled at Mookie, as far as doing the right thing, especially Mookie,’’ she said. “I think they know it comes from a place of care. I tell our guys ‘no’ a lot, but I take time to explain why, because they hear ‘no’ a lot.’’
Betts readily admits to having been on the receiving end of a reproach from Ferreira.
“Yeah, I’m always doing something stupid,’’ he said. “But after a yelling, I usually get a big hug, so everything is OK.’’
Ferreira’s empathy for the players, she said, is rooted in her own past, as the daughter of immigrants from Cape Verde with a large extended family that went well beyond her brother and two sisters.
“A ton of cousins,’’ she said. “I say it’s like ‘My big fat Portuguese wedding.’ Everyone is in everyone’s business. You get what you give. I get respect because I give respect. I get love from these guys because that’s what I give them. That’s how my real family is, and it’s the same with my work family.’’
But family tells only part of the story. Ferreira’s path to becoming the team’s Vice President, Major and Minor League Operations — one in which she has been granted enormous responsibility as the person in charge of the baseball operations budgets (excluding big-league payroll; that’s on Dave Dombrowski’s plate) and overseeing the club’s major and minor league operations — is not unlike the one faced by many players. Long odds, made even longer by being a woman in a man’s world, hard work, and a burning determination to succeed.
The work, Ferreira did not have to look far for a role model. Her mother, Lotty, came to Rhode Island from Cape Verde at age 16 and found work immediately in order to bring the rest of her family here from the island. Lotty and Raquel’s father, Gammy, worked alternate shifts in a factory so that one of them would be home with Raquel, her brother David, and two sisters, Eunice and Melinda. Lotty, a skilled dressmaker, later opened her own boutique, sold real estate and now runs a travel agency.
“My parents are unbelievably hard workers,’’ said Ferreira, whose pride in her parents and Cape Verdean heritage is reflected in her decision to keep her maiden name, a decision supported by her husband, Eric Stamps. “They taught us that if we want something to work hard for it, and if we work hard, someone will recognize us.’’
While her older sisters were playing Barbies, Ferreira said, she used to watch her brother David — they were only 14 months apart in age — playing for his Little League team. Growing up first in Pawtucket and then nearby Cumberland, R.I., there were trips to see the PawSox. “I also used to watch Red Sox games with him on TV,’’ she said. “I remember sitting in our living room crying when the Red Sox lost in 1986.’’
Her first love was basketball — she fell hard for Michael Jordan — but while she had a vague idea when she went to the University of Rhode Island that she wanted a job in sports, it seemed a far-fetched proposition. It was a rare team that offered an internship then, and sports management programs had yet to become part of the curriculum.
But, serendipity: Her sister, Eunice, a professor of theater at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., introduced Ferreira to the sports director of a local radio station. He, in turn, happened to know a woman who was about to leave her job with the Red Sox as an administrative assistant. Ferreira was overqualified for the position, but it was her chance to work in sports, and she seized it. Her first boss was Kent Qualls, Boston’s director of player development under Dan Duquette.
That was in 1999, the same year that Ben Cherington joined the organization, first as a scout, then as a baseball operations assistant. “Ben and I worked very closely together,’’ she said.
After Red Sox owner John W. Henry hired Theo Epstein to become the club’s general manager in 2003, Ferreira encountered a boss that not only recognized her ambitions, but encouraged them. Epstein asked Ferreira what she wanted to do. She asked for a new title: director of minor league administration. Epstein didn’t blink.
“I said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’’’ Ferreira said. “Theo said, ‘I don’t care what anyone says. I’ve watched what you do, I see how you go about your business. You deserve this.’’’
Ferreira’s promotion may have warranted little more than a line of agate type in the newspapers at the time, but its significance was not lost on her.
“I think when you’re a female in baseball, you have to work twice as hard,’’ said Ferreira, who acknowledges that she has gotten pushback from those uncomfortable with the idea of working with a woman. “You are held to a different standard, but you take the good with the bad.
“Theo did not look at me — and it continued with Ben — he did not look at me as a female in baseball. He looked at me as a coworker and believed in my abilities. He said, ‘Whatever you want to do, let me know.’’’
Ferrreira was in St. Louis with the rest of the baseball operations staff when the Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years on Oct. 27, 2004 — her birthday. She was pregnant with her daughter, Gabriella, when the Sox won again in 2007 in Denver, and was in Cherington’s suite, her husband and sister and brother-in-law and cousin in the stands below, when the Sox won the Series at home for the first time in 95 years, in 2013. “We partied like rock stars,’’ she said.
It was daughter Gabriella who innocently inquired, “Why, Mama, do you only work with boys?’’ Perceptive child, that one.
“We’re each others’ family,’’ Ferreira said of all those “boys” she worked with. “We spend more time with our coworkers than our own family. I felt like had 20 brothers I never asked for. It was dysfunctional at times, we’d fight like cats and dogs at times. But by the end of the day, we’d do anything for each other. We had each others’ backs. That was the attitude Theo instilled in us.’’
Yes, Ferreira told Gabriella, Mama works almost exclusively with boys. “But whatever you want to do in life,’’ she tells her daughter, “don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you’re a girl.’’
Ferreira is now in her 19th year with the Red Sox. In 2015, Cherington promoted her to vice president of baseball administration. And now, Dombrowski, the fifth GM she has worked under (Mike Port held the job in 2002), has given her a new title.
Before Cherington left the Sox, he said he saw no reason why a woman could not one day be a general manager. Does Ferreira share that belief? “Absolutely,’’ she says without hesitation. Her answer is the same when asked whether a woman could one day serve as manager or coach.
Becoming a general manager is not, however, her dream. Her lack of background in talent evaluation would be problematic, she said. “But would I like to be an assistant general manager? Absolutely,’’ she said.
And while it was never part of the job description, Ferreira transcended the task of managing budgets and the needs of the major-league clubhouse and the operations of six minor-league affiliates to become, in Bogaerts’ phrase, the “go-to lady” for players seeking the personal touch. It was Ferreira who first suggested that the team make a practice of flying in a player’s family when he makes his big-league debut. It is Ferreira who interacts not only with the players but their parents and other family members, lining up hotel rooms and flights and the like. It is Ferreira who looks at her cellphone and sees a text addressed to “Mama Bear.”
“From the first day I met her,’’ Betts said, “she just made sure everything was OK.’’
This is who Raquel Ferreira is. But it is only part of who she is, and what she aspires to be.
“I want to be known as a great executive in baseball,’’ she said, “without the word ‘female’ in front of it.’’
This article first appeared in the Red Sox Magazine, Second Edition, 2017