That crash you heard was the glass ceiling being shattered in Major League Baseball.
And that cheer? That was all the people celebrating the decision Friday by the Miami Marlins to name Kim Ng as their general manager. At least, those people who believe that one’s gender should not be a barrier to a position that relies on brains, insight, ingenuity, experience and people skills.
In that realm, Ng is the match of anyone in the world of baseball. The sad part is, she has been ready to run a baseball team for at least 15 years. Any man with her vast experience and expertise would have been hired long ago.
Few people have interviewed for GM jobs and finished as a runner-up more times than Ng. When it came to crunchtime, no team president or CEO had the guts to bring a woman into this men’s club, even though Ng’s credentials were impeccable.
But now Derek Jeter, CEO of the Marlins, has done it. Ng becomes the first female general manager in MLB history and is believed to be the first woman hired for the GM position by any of the professional men’s sports teams in major leagues in North America.
Jeter has firsthand knowledge of Ng (pronounced Ang), who was the Yankees’ assistant general manage for four years under Brian Cashman — during which time they won three World Series. She also worked six years in the front office of the White Sox, 10 years as assistant GM of the Dodgers and the past nine years as Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations with MLB. That made her not just the highest-ranking woman, but also the highest-ranking Asian-American in the sport.
In between all that, Ng had a stint in the American League office as director of waivers and records. In 30 years in the sport, she’s been immersed in player evaluation and acquisition, minor-league operations, contract negotiations, and virtually every other aspect of the GM job.
Before you say, “But she never played the game” — a bogus disparagement that has haunted her attempts forever — just look around at the front offices of MLB in 2020. They are filled with Ivy Leaguers who are analytic experts and sabermetric whizzes, most of whom never advanced beyond their high-school or college team — if that far. Ng absolutely fits the mold of the new-age general manager, with more practical experience than most who were hired ahead of her.
Oh, and Ng played college ball, too — four years on the softball team at the University of Chicago while earning a degree in public policy. She had a .234 career average in 92 games as an infielder from 1987 to 1990, leading the team with a .388 average in 1989. The Maroons were 1-24 that year, but you can’t hold that against her.
It’s sad to think that the Mariners could have been the pioneers, if they were bold enough. In 2008, after Bill Bavasi was fired as Seattle’s GM, Ng was one of four finalists to replace him. The others were Jerry Dipoto (whom they would hire seven years later), Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava, and the eventual choice, Jack Zduriencik, at the time the Brewers’ scouting director.
We all know how that turned out, and to surmise that a different guiding hand — Ng’s guiding hand — could have done much better. The Mariners either didn’t have the creativity or courage to see beyond the orthodoxy of baseball’s existing culture. And they weren’t alone. Until Friday, no team did.
This isn’t tokenism, political correctness or pandering. As I once wrote in a column urging the Mariners to give Ng strong consideration, “Ng is flat-out ready to be a major-league general manager. Overdue, in fact.”
That was 12 years ago, when Ng was 39. Now at age 51, with vastly more experience on her résumé, she’s more than ready. She’s over-ready.
In the course of writing that column, I talked to Cashman, who said Ng’s qualifications matched his own when the Yankees hired him, a relative unknown, in 1998.
“She possesses every single quality I have. If I can do it, she can,” Cashman told me. “Someone took a chance on me back in the day. All she needs is someone to take a chance on her, simple as that.
“All the qualities are there for people to evaluate against other candidates; that’s the real issue. It has nothing to do with being the first woman. It’s her versus the field at that moment in time.”
I also talked to Dan Evans, who brought Ng into baseball as a White Sox intern in baseball operations in 1991 and then hired her again when he became GM of the Dodgers in 2002. Evans said that Ng had more responsibility than anyone on his staff in her capacity overseeing player development and scouting.
“I’ll tell you point blank: There’s no debating her ability,” Evans said at the time. “If anyone thinks she was hired for any position because of her gender, they haven’t interacted with her or worked against her. Then you know that gender had nothing to do with it. It was ability.”
Ng’s hiring as Marlins GM is a signature moment for what it represents for women, and for inclusion. But what makes it a great hire is the fact it was her ability that earned her the job.