Miami Marlins hire Kim Ng, breaking a baseball gender barrier
By Tyler Kepner
Kim Ng has long been viewed as the person who would break one of baseball’s most stubborn barriers.
Thirty years ago, Ng, 51, started work in the game as an intern for the Chicago White Sox, attempting to carve out a career in a sport dominated by men. She worked her way up, earning senior positions with the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers and, most recently, serving as Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of baseball operations.
On Friday, she became the first woman hired to run a major league team’s baseball operations when she was named general manager of the Miami Marlins.
“This challenge is one I don’t take lightly,” Ng said in a statement released by the team. “When I got into this business, it seemed unlikely a woman would lead a major league team, but I am dogged in the pursuit of my goals.”
The significance of Ng’s hiring extends beyond baseball, as she is the first woman to be a general manager in any of the major men’s sports leagues in North America. The move, to many in baseball, was considered long overdue and comes at a time when several other women are moving up the ranks of the sport after years of resistance, and as women begin to populate the benches and boardrooms of professional football and basketball teams.
“I felt from 15 years ago that she was always the best candidate for the job, and for whatever reason, people weren’t prepared to make that move,” said Dan Evans, who in 1990 hired Ng as an intern for the Chicago White Sox. “So I congratulate the Marlins, because this is not just a baseball move, this is a generational move. Young women throughout the world view Kim differently today, and this gives them hope that that platform could be theirs someday.”
Ng (pronounced “ANG”) has a formidable résumé: After seven years with the White Sox, she spent 13 as an assistant general manager, first with the Yankees before leaving in 2002 to rejoin Evans, who was running the Dodgers. All of those teams reached the postseason during her tenure, but while Ng received interviews for at least four general manager openings, she was not chosen for the role until Friday.
Derek Jeter, the Marlins’ chief executive, was the Yankees’ star shortstop during Ng’s time as assistant general manager to Brian Cashman. Jeter cited her “wealth of knowledge and championship-level experience” in naming her as the top decision-maker on his baseball operations staff. She will be responsible for, among other things, making trades, negotiating contracts, running the team’s draft and managing its moves in free agency.
“Kim’s appointment makes history in all of professional sports,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement, “and sets a significant example for the millions of women and girls who love baseball and softball.”
Women have owned franchises and other major sports in the past, and still do, but never had one held the position of GM. Once excluded from baseball, women are entering the industry more than ever. Forty percent of the professional employees at Major League Baseball’s central office are women (the highest percentage since 2008), and 21 women had on-field coaching or player development roles for organizations entering 2020 (up from only three in 2017), according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.
Still, that institute’s latest report card gave Major League Baseball and its 30 teams a C grade for gender hiring. Of the roughly 500 vice president jobs among the 30 clubs, only 95 were held by women, according to the report, and only 19 were women of color — about 4 percent of all vice-president level positions.
The news of Ng’s hiring was cause for celebration Friday among the dozens of women in full-time baseball-operations jobs who share a text chain. Many in the group chat, which was created in the summer of 2019, look up to Ng as a role model.
The group’s founder, Jen Wolf, 33, a life-skills coordinator in the Cleveland Indians’ farm system, said she was star struck earlier in her career when she first met Ng at an annual industrywide conference. She later worked under Ng in Major League Baseball’s central office; it was a powerful experience, Wolf said, not only because she could learn directly from a role model but because she had another woman as a boss in baseball.
Wolf said her first thought upon hearing the news was happiness for her friend and mentor.
“And then my second thought was: it’s about time,” Wolf said. “Anyone with her résumé should have been hired years ago, so I’m very excited. I feel like males with a similar résumé would have been hired ages ago.”
Before this season, Rachel Balkovec, a Yankees’ minor-league instructor, was believed to be the first woman hired as a full-time hitting coach by a major-league organization. Rachel Folden, also a minor-league hitting instructor but with the Chicago Cubs, was the first female coach in that organization’s history. And in July, Alyssa Nakken of the San Francisco Giants became the first woman in major league history to coach on the field.
“The most important thing for me is that this is not a one-off in all of these roles,” Wolf said.
“Just because Alyssa, Kim and both Rachels are the firsts, they should by no means be the last. They’re incredible women, but there are so many more amazing, incredible women that are ready for those roles as well.”
Ng was born in Indianapolis but grew up in Queens and graduated from Ridgewood High School in New Jersey. At the University of Chicago, she starred in softball and graduated with a degree in public policy. The White Sox internship soon led to a role as the team’s assistant director of baseball operations.
“Kim would come in every day and ask me a series of questions, and at lunch ask more questions,” Evans said. “She had a thirst to learn why. She grew into her role so quickly, and the fun thing was to watch the evolution of people getting more and more comfortable with a female in the room. She had pressure that most other people don’t have: She had to prove herself all the time.”
Ng entered the game when top positions were often filled by former professional players, almost all of them white. Those positions rarely go to former players anymore, as increasingly teams lean on decisions driven more heavily by data than scouting or on-field experience.
Ng’s hiring resonated throughout an industry that remains heavily male and white. At the beginning of the 2020 season, only four people of color led baseball operations departments: Ken Williams of the Chicago White Sox, Farhan Zaidi of the San Francisco Giants, Al Avila of the Detroit Tigers and the Marlins’ Michael Hill, whom Ng is replacing.
This stood in stark contrast to the field, where nearly 40 percent of this season’s opening day rosters were made up of players of color, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. Latinos, the largest minority group in baseball, made up nearly 30 percent of major-league players, followed by Black (about 8 percent) and Asian (roughly 2 percent).
Ng is believed to be the second person of Asian descent to lead a team. Zaidi, the Dodgers’ GM from 2014 to 2018 and now the Giants’ president of baseball operations, was born in Canada to parents from Pakistan.
Jeter, who is biracial, became Miami’s chief executive when the ownership group he is a part of bought the Marlins in 2017. He has emphasized diversity in his remaking of the Marlins.
Jean Afterman, who succeeded Ng as the Yankees’ assistant general manager in 2001, said she believed Jeter has found a perfect person to run his team.
“To be a GM in Major League Baseball, you need intelligence, vision and experience,” Afterman said in a statement released by the Yankees. “These qualities of leadership, which Kim possesses in abundance, are gender-blind.”