For the first time in a long time, something unequivocally good happened in baseball. There was no catch, no fallback, no phantom menace behind the curtain waiting to squash any hope of progress. Kim Ng, a baseball woman of legendary stature with a resume to match, was named as the Miami Marlins’ new general manager (GM) last Friday.
With this move, Ng became the first woman GM in the history of Major League Baseball (MLB). To fully capture the magnitude of this move, the first GM was hired back in 1927.
Whenever a groundbreaking figure of epic proportions shatters a previously staunch barrier, there’s always a disgusting, subterranean community of idiots that will push back. Out of either fear, ignorance or hatred, these people will attempt to shout down this move. Buzzwords and dog whistles like “virtue signaling” and “diversity hire” will circle in Twitter mentions and Reddit forums.
Let me assure you — Ng is one of the most qualified candidates, if not the most qualified, for an MLB front office position ever. Her baseball career now stretches over three decades. She first started as an intern with the Chicago White Sox at age 21 and then moved her way up through the American League’s administrative ladder, amassing experience until she became the league’s director of waivers and records.
At age 29, Ng took the leap and became the youngest assistant GM in MLB when she joined the New York Yankees. She was the right hand for Brian Cashman as the organization witnessed its greatest modern dynasty and was an integral part of constructing the World Series winners of 1998, 1999 and 2000.
She then moved onto the Los Angeles Dodgers to serve as the vice president and assistant GM until 2011, at which point she became the senior vice president of baseball operations for all of MLB. In total, her work as a high-ranking, front-office wizard gave her eight postseason appearances, six League Championship Series titles and three World Series championships.
This exhaustive list of her accolades and accomplishments are meant to convey the fact that Ng has forgotten more baseball than most could ever imagine learning. She’s had her hand in the success of a couple of the most storied franchises in the history of the sport and has been near the helm of the Commissioner’s Office for the past decade. It’s no surprise that Ng earned this opportunity.
But the path toward this moment has been long and arduous. Ng first interviewed for a GM position 15 years ago for an opening with the Dodgers. At that time she was the first woman ever to interview for a GM position in the MLB. In the years since then, before being named to the position for the Marlins, she interviewed and was passed over for at least five open GM positions across the league.
Her story of perseverance in the face of a male-dominated industry is a common one. There were women who came before her, equally as qualified and determined, that were denied the same opportunity as the men in the field.
Not because of lack of skill or lack of knowledge. Time and time again, men fear losing their stronghold in the business that they created. There’s this archaic boys’ club ego that persists in baseball. It attempts to subdue the women who press up against the glass ceiling in the middle of a suffocating atmosphere of rejection based on sex, gender and race.
On Sarah Spain’s ESPN radio show, Ng highlighted the challenges she faced being the only woman in the room.
“I think there are examples of guys particularly early on in my career before I had really risen the ranks, who just hadn’t seen women before, in the front office or out on the field before batting practice,” she said. “There’s a novelty about it, but definitely some side-glancing going on.”
There’s an old adage that is thrown around minority households along the lines of “you have to work twice as hard to get half as far.” I’m almost fairly certain that Ng, who is also baseball’s first Asian American GM, has heard that advice time and time again.
It can be a ridiculously isolating and frustrating feeling. Watching as mediocrity passes you by while you have to reach the extraordinary to even be commended. Having to deal with the heightened potential for harassment from colleagues and others strictly due to being a woman and an Asian American in white, male-dominated sport culture. There’s increased scrutiny and pressure for your work to be outstanding in order to justify your seat at the table.
Ng recounted an instance 17 years ago where she was accosted during MLB’s GM meetings at a hotel bar. Then New York Mets scout Bill Singer drunkenly approached her in front of executives, her coworkers, singled her out and asked what she was doing there. She stated that she was working and named herself as the assistant GM for the Dodgers.
He went further, demanding that Ng tell him where she was from. Ng explained that she was born in Indiana and grew up in New York and New Jersey, but that wasn’t enough for the belligerent Singer. He then pressed on, emphasizing that she tell him where she was from, with the classic insinuation that Asian Americans don’t get to just be American. There’s always a qualifier that is meant to create a difference between the ethnically white Americans and everyone else.
It wasn’t enough to be born and raised in America; she would always be seen as an outsider in her own country because she wasn’t ethnically white. And when she explained that her parents were of Chinese descent, Singer launched into a disgusting, stereotypical accent that was painfully familiar to every Asian person in the United States.
Ng understandably was pissed. That whole night was awful. Even with all her experience, knowledge and prowess with her job, she was still subjected to random instances of stupidity. Racism and ignorance will always be unavoidable, attempting to remind us that no matter how successful we get, we can’t run from it.
For 30 years Ng progressed through all the levels in baseball. She ran the radar gun as an intern. She argued arbitration cases and went toe-to-toe with top sports agents like Scott Boras. She knocked on the door of the GM office for more than 15 years, armed with more experience than most applicants could ever dream of having. Ng’s collected the support of baseball leadership icons like former manager Joe Torre, Derek Jeter, who is now the CEO and part-owner for the Marlins, and Brian Cashman.
In an interview in 2015, Torre explained that it’d only be a matter of time before Ng was hired; it just depended on the biases of those doing the hiring.
“I always talk her up at owners meetings. At some point, somebody just has to ignore the fact that she’s a woman and just make a baseball decision,” he said. “And if they do that, then I think she will get an opportunity. Somewhere.”
That moment has finally arrived, as the Marlins finally had the wherewithal to do what teams like the Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Angels refused to do — hire the right person for the job. And now Ng steps into the role that she’s been preparing for since 1990.
In one fell swoop, Ng breaks a glass ceiling for all women in baseball and leaps over a barrier for Asian Americans. She recognizes that there’s still a long way to go, that all problems of inequality and discrimination against women in baseball can’t disappear with this move. There are 29 other teams that still have barriers put up against progressiveness. But for a brief moment, we can say that this is a concrete step in the right direction.
Congratulations, Kim Ng, and good luck.