For Asian women, sponsorship can be history making. Meet Kim Ng, the first female GM in Major League Baseball
Kim J. Ng made history when she became the general manager (GM) of the Miami Marlins in 2020. She was highly-qualified and well-respected in Major League Baseball, but it took baseball Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter (then part-owner of the Marlins) for Kim to realize her dream of becoming a GM. Her path teaches us important lessons for women in the workplace.
Update October 27, 2023: Know your worth. Announced on October 16, 2023, Kim Ng departs the Miami Marlins by not exercising her option to stay. Though Ng has shown her leadership, led the Marlins to playoff, and improved its bench, she leaves after learning of the Marlin’s intention to hire a president of baseball operation above her.
Kim J. Ng made history when she became the general manager (GM) of the Miami Marlins in 2020. Not only is Ng the first woman to serve as GM in Major League Baseball (MLB), she is also the first woman to do so in the history of major North American men’s pro team sports and is currently the highest ranking female baseball executive. It was a long journey getting to the top for Ng. While she was highly-qualified and well-respected, it took baseball Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter (then part-owner of the Marlins) for Ng to realize her dream of becoming a GM. Her path teaches us important lessons for women in the workplace.
It takes Passion and Skill to stay
Ng’s 30-year career started with her dad’s love of baseball that she herself caught. A self-described tomboy, she played organized softball when her family moved to Long Island. And when they moved to New Jersey, Ng was the star of her team at Ridgewood High School. She continued her athletic pursuits at the University of Chicago in college and did her thesis on Title IX.
An internship with the Chicago White Sox after graduation was the start of her barrier-breaking baseball career. Her mom could not believe that she was working for free, but that paid off when the White Sox hired her full-time in 1991 during the dawn of the “Moneyball” era. She says that technology gave her an opportunity as she was among the first ones to use analytical programs for the White Sox.
Ng rose to be the Assistant Director of Baseball Operations after six years. She moved to the American League to serve as Director of Waivers and Records for a year. In 1998, she joined the New York Yankees as their Assistant General Manager. During her time at the Yankees, New York won back-to-back-to-back World Series titles during one of the most memorable stretches in the franchise’s storied history. She joined the Dodgers in 2001 as Vice President and Assistant GM, a role she held for almost a decade. Her dream has always been to be a GM and her passion kept her going. She says in the Today interview, “You know what you want. You know you are good. Why would you do anything else?”
It takes Access and Network to move up
Throughout her career, many of Ng’s professional milestones and achievements have been trailblazing for women in professional sports. She is often referred to as “the first,” “the only” or “the youngest.” Namely, Ng was the first woman to present a salary arbitration case at the major league level with the White Sox, and she was the youngest Assistant GM when the Yankees hired her.
In one of her interviews, she credits the incredible access she received from the intern program at the White Sox that enabled her to learn and be visible. She shares that she was the only woman in the room during a player salary arbitration case that she had provided the research for.
When Ng served as Director of Waivers and Records, she was able to connect with executives throughout the league. They relied on her technical expertise in executing trades and other transactions. That exposure was invaluable. When Brian Cashman was elevated to Yankees GM in 1998, he offered Ng this prior role of Assistant GM.
Ng had also worked for Hall-of-Famer baseball executive, Joe Torre. She had built a close relationship with him. She says that Torre is someone she regularly receives advice from.
It takes Sponsorship to get it done
As exceptional as Ng was and with the network that she had, she was passed over for GM roles. She had interviewed for GM positions at least 10 times over the years. After a decade, it finally took a former player who she had worked with to make it happen. That former player was baseball icon, Derek Jeter, then CEO and part-owner of the Miami Marlins. Ng and Jeter met during her time at the Yankees.
As said by Jeter, Ng was the first person and only person he called for the GM role. Though not mentioned it took Jeter, who is part-Black and in a decision-making capacity, to consider and sponsor a woman and a person of color for the role.
Her hiring received wide-spread media coverage and was celebrated as a breakthrough for women in sports with the potential to place more women in traditionally male power roles. Ng received congratulatory messages from the likes of Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Billie Jean King.
On dealing with Sexism and Racism
On dealing with unconscious bias in her career, Ng acknowledges that those instances are always difficult, and several have been fairly painful for her. She has found ways to deal with it and to move on.
One incident written in an Time article, was with former major league pitcher Bill Singer. At the hotel bar one night during the general managers’ meetings in Arizona, Singer—then a scout for the New York Mets—asked why she was there and mocked her Chinese heritage with a fake accent.
Ng said to Time, “I was just extraordinarily pissed,” At a meeting with Dodgers and Mets officials at the hotel after the incident, Singer started to apologize. “I just said, ‘Stop, stop,’ and then I had to tell him what I thought in front of a dozen people. I just told him to save it. Because the only person that was going to feel better after he spoke was him. I said it was really interesting that he picked the only person in the room who wasn’t going to throw him through a window after what he said.” Singer soon was fired.
What’s next is Transformative
Jeter has since stepped down as Marlins’ CEO and sold his stake in early 2022, but Ng continues to make transformative changes. “Surprise” and “excitement” are words describing the Miami Marlins today. Since taking on the GM role, Ng focused on building out the team roster along with creating a culture of collaboration and a team of diverse viewpoints. Ng’s vision and leadership for the franchise seems to be working. As of this writing, Ng is leading the Marlins’ playoff charge and is the first female GM to do so. It is also the first time in 7 years that the Marlins were buyers at the Trade Deadline. Ng is focused on adding to the bullpen.
Virtual Voices of the Game: Kim Ng (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)
Ng’s fingerprints all over Marlins’ surprise rise (Major League Baseball)
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