Kim Ng breaking barriers while leading Marlins

Written by: Bill Francis

Kim Ng has been at the forefront of the ever-evolving baseball landscape as the game has advanced in its efforts toward inclusion.

Today, she’s often referred to as both a trailblazer and inspiration.

After more than three decades working at the sport’s highest level, including stints in the front offices of the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as with Major League Baseball, Ng was hired as general manager of the Miami Marlins in November 2020, becoming the highest-ranking woman in baseball operations among the 30 MLB teams and the first woman hired to the general manager position by any of the professional men’s sports teams in North America.

Ng was a recent guest on the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Voice of the Game series, a program put on in conjunction with the National Archives Foundation, in which she discussed her unique journey, the important role women have in the game today, and how diversity in the sport’s future is important.   

“I think Major League Baseball has done a nice job of providing opportunity and access for the young women and girls that do have profound, deep interest in the game,” Ng said. “And so, you’re not just providing opportunity, but really trying to help develop these young women and girls and connecting them to different Major League clubs to provide a training ground for them. I’ve been really happy with a lot of their formal programming that they’ve done over the last five years.”

Kim Ng became the first female general manager of a men's team in North American sports history when she was hired by the Marlins in 2020. (Eric Espada/Miami Marlins)

Ng, who is featured in the Diamond Dreams: Women in Baseball exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame, grew up on a diamond playing softball as a youngster, a game that would foretell her future.

“I think I was the typical smaller, spunky player. I always had to have very good mechanics because of my size. But definitely always putting 110 percent effort out there, which is probably how you would describe my career as well,” Ng said. “Never the biggest or the loudest in the room, but definitely always there before and after putting forth good effort and making the most of my ability.”

While living on Long Island, her early love of baseball led to the admiration of a Yankees legend.

“I was a child as a product of the ‘70s and so, of course, the team at the time in New York was the Yankees,” said the 54-year-old Ng. “And my favorite player was Thurman Munson because he was always the dirtiest one on the field. He was the one leading the charge. He was a tremendous hitter. And he came through in the clutch. So, I was always a big fan of him.”

In a bit of foreshadowing, the University of Chicago graduate wrote her senior thesis on Title IX, the groundbreaking federal civil rights law that was enacted in 1972 that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government. 

“My thought was, ‘Okay, if I’m going to spend all this time writing a 30-plus-page paper, I want it to be about something that I thought was engaging or fun or something that I was passionate about.’ And I fell on the topic of Title IX, which I knew nothing about at the time,” Ng said. “So, the more I read about it, the more intrigued I was, the more I realized how fortunate I was, and was maybe not a direct product of, but still close enough to that group that faced a lot of hardship in terms of trying to get equality and fight for equality.

“So those things were definitely of interest to me, really intriguing things that I had encountered in my life, but I hadn’t really put it all together yet in terms of how I felt about it or how meaningful it was in my life.”

After beginning her baseball career as an intern with the White Sox in 1990 after graduating from the University of Chicago – where she played in the softball team for four years – she worked as assistant director of baseball operations, staying with the franchise through 1996.

“As an intern, you basically put on the hat where you have to be willing to do anything. And I will say that the White Sox had a great program. No task was too small. And they put me on some projects that you really couldn’t believe you are working on as an intern,” Ng said. “A lot of that varied from inputting expense reports and scouting reports, to working on arbitration cases.

“I was actually in an arbitration room as an intern in February of 1991. That in and of itself was a ridiculously cool experience for me. To think that at 22 years old, I was sitting there in a room that hundreds of thousands of dollars were being decided upon and know that I had a hand in helping with a lot of that research. So, I had a lot of different responsibilities, culminating probably in that one experience in the arbitration room.”

Ng’s upward trajectory in baseball continued when, in 1998, she was named assistant general manager of the Yankees. She not only became the youngest AGM in Major League Baseball at 29, but also only the second woman to attain the position with a Major League Baseball club.

“At the time that I was there – my first year was 1998 – I’m not sure we quite knew that we’re in the middle of a dynasty. But I can tell you that everyone had a really special feeling about that particular 1998 club,” she said. “It was a club that I call the sum of the parts, where not one player hit 30 home runs, but we scored over 900 runs, which is just absurd. These days we talk about plate discipline, strike zone recognition and grinding at-bats, and these guys, all of them from top to bottom, were absolutely exemplary in those items. So, for me, it was just an amazing experience.

“Did it set an unrealistic expectation? I don’t think so because I think for me, even being fairly young in my career, knew that it was just really special. But it did, in my mind, really create the benchmark of this is what it’s supposed to look like in its purest, most idyllic form.”

The 1998 Yankees won 114 games during the regular season, then went 11-2 in a postseason that included sweeping the San Diego Padres in the World Series.

“In 1998 when we had that magical year, the next year we absolutely struggled in September. We backed into the playoffs. And so even then, when we were going through it, we knew it wasn’t easy. Even the next year, 2000, when we played the Mets in the Subway Series, which was a tough one. Every game was really tight. It could have gone either way,” Ng said. “At least for me, and I think for anybody else you talked to on that team or in the front office at that time, we all appreciated just how hard it was.”

Ng left the Yankees to join the Dodgers in 2002, where she spent nine years as vice president and assistant general manager. She joined the Marlins after a nine-year stretch with MLB as senior vice president of baseball operations and the highest ranking Asian-American female baseball executive. She made history when Marlins CEO Derek Jeter hired her.

“Before I had that conversation with Derek over Zoom, I had basically told myself I was going to just put it all out on the table. This is my last-ditch effort. This was probably going to be our last conversation before he made up his mind,” Ng remembered. “So, I started giving him my pitch, and we get about five, six minutes in and he’s like, ‘Whoa, I just want to know if you want to be my general manager.’ And of course, I laughed a bit and then I realized the point I was at and where my journey had now taken me. I had chased it for so long that I couldn’t believe that we had finally gotten there.

“It’s similar to how I was describing the World Series and getting there as a Yankee in ‘98. I really had the same feeling, which was relief. Just that all this hard work had not necessarily gone for not – not that it would have anyway – but you put all this hard work in, and you have these aspirations and they were finally realized. The good thing was I had familiarity with Derek. We knew each other from my Yankees days. He was the same guy that I knew 20 years earlier, so that was really reassuring.”

Now in her third year on the job with the Marlins, Ng talked about how she looks at her role leading a big league franchise.

“Maybe the 100 hours per week isn’t necessarily just sitting at your desk staring at your computer or watching games, but it’s probably 85 to 90 hours of that. And then the rest of it is basically agonizing over what you should be doing or what you are currently not doing. It’s an all-consuming job,” Ng said. “For the 30 of us that have these jobs, I think we feel a responsibility to the people that rely on us – to our staffs, to the players, and our organizations – to do everything that we can to make us better day in and day out.

“My husband and I drove up to New York for the holidays. And the first day we were on the road he got to see me try to complete a deal. From the time we got in the car, and I heard him tell the story to some others, he said: ‘It’s 1,300 miles we drove and she was on the phone for 1,000.’

“He saw a deal, and I don’t want to say from start to finish, but he really saw me trying to close the deal. And it took all day of being on the phone in the car. He didn’t turn on the radio or have music on one time that entire day.”

Ng reflected on her time in the game when asked about any bigotry or sexism she may have confronted along the way being a woman of Asian descent in baseball.

“I think many of us face unconscious bias on a fairly regular basis. I will say that in this job I’m a lot higher profile, so I think a lot more people recognize me. And when that happens, people are understanding, and it registers. But again, going to the unconscious bias, it’s not just me, it’s many people in everyday life face it, whether you’re in line at the grocery store or you’re driving on the road, or you just come into contact with people who are not very kind,” Ng said. “It can be a tough road if you let it bother you too much. But the fact of the matter is we still face it.

“I can tell you in this job I’ve been fortunate where I haven’t had anything incredibly overt. In my career I have, though, and those instances are always difficult. There have been several that have been fairly painful, and you have to find ways to deal with it. But I think, particularly for women now in this industry, I believe it has gotten better. Together as a collective we’re becoming not so much of a novelty where you don’t just do a doubletake. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re working on it.”

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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