Brian O’Halloran ’93 began working in the front office of the Boston Red Sox in 2002, when he was an unpaid intern. In 2019 he was named the major league baseball club’s general manager.
He’s principally involved in finding, signing, and retaining players who can help the Sox win, and he’s so good at contract negotiations that his nickname is Bulldog. But even the sports agents who negotiate against O’Halloran seem to like this humble, understated executive.
As the Sox prepare to open their season March 30, O’Halloran discusses his life in the big leagues and at Colby.
So, you began working full time for the Sox in 2004, the very year that the team broke the Curse of the Bambino, ending an 86-year run without a world championship. Can we posit a cause-effect there?
(Laughter) No, I’m afraid not.
But you’re one of only two people who were there in the Sox’s front office for each one of the last four world championships–2004, 2007, 2013, and 2018.
That’s just because my wife and I love Boston. And I didn’t want to leave the Red Sox.
They were my team as I grew up in Weymouth, and the energy of Fenway Park is unbeatable. I have so many memories there. Like in 1988, I took the T in with my friends. This was during the Morgan Magic streak, when the Sox won every one of their first dozen games under manager Joe Morgan, and in the bottom of the 10th, with two outs and the Sox down 7-6, this guy named Todd Benzinger, a Sox outfielder, hit a three-run walk-off home run. Everyone was going crazy.
Beyond that, there’s just something about baseball. I love the batter-pitcher matchup. When you’re in the playoffs and you have a great closer facing a great batter—well, there’s nothing more exciting than that in sports. And there’s a strong team element to baseball. In basketball or hockey, you have one or two players who can really dominate. But in baseball, you have nine players on the field, and they all matter.
At Colby, you double majored in government and Russian studies. You spent your junior year in Georgia, then wrote your senior thesis on state-building in Georgia. Have these experiences benefitted you in baseball?
Yes, it’s helpful to have a sense of the larger world. Because when you’re in the front office, you’re working with all different kinds of people, from a 16-year-old Dominican kid you just signed to a team owner to coaches to the medical staff and the behavioral science department.
Okay, but my guess is that, in major league baseball, you’ve never rolled out your Russian-language skills.
Actually, I have. In 2006 there was an American astronaut who was on the International Space Station with a Russian cosmonaut, and the American happened to be a Red Sox fan, and he asked to speak with our GM at the time, Theo Epstein. Theo said he would do it as long as I could join him and speak Russian to the cosmonaut.
A more difficult question. The Red Sox have come in last in the American League East two out of the last three seasons. As you seek players who can win, is there a formula you apply?
We definitely look at statistics like earned-run and batting average over time. But if we’re looking at a small sample, like how a player did in seven at bats–well, those are just surface numbers.
But is there fuzzy logic involved?
Definitely. We look at underlying characteristics, like the spin a closer puts on his pitches. And of course we look at visual evaluations from our scouts.
This spring baseball will undergo arguably the biggest rule changes since the outlawing of the spitball in 1917. There’ll be a pitch clock and limits on defensive shifts, and the bases will be bigger. Is this a good thing?
Yes, it’s great that we’re picking up the pace of the game. Fans don’t like slowness. They want the ball in play. They want more stolen bases. We tested the rules in the minor leagues last year. I was reminded of the game I grew up with, and honestly I can’t wait for the season to begin.