On Nov. 7, thousands of young girls watched Vice President-elect Kamala Harris deliver an electrifying acceptance speech. In her powerful yet soothing demeanor, the first woman and first woman of color to hold the vice president position made her message very clear.
“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” Harris said. “Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”
A week later, Kim Ng crossed gender and racial barriers after being named the MLB’s first female and first East Asian-American general manager, or GM, exemplifying Harris’ very words for sports enthusiasts everywhere. Appointed GM of the Miami Marlins on Nov. 13, Ng made history as not only the league’s first female in the position but also the first female GM across all major men’s sports leagues in the United States.
The decision has put Ng at the helm of a team already pinned to keep an eye on next spring, should it be deemed safe for teams to play (yes, I’m looking at you, Los Angeles Dodgers). The Marlins entered the 2020 season with a COVID-19 outbreak, a projection to finish last in the NL East and the league’s fourth-lowest payroll. Yet, the squad departed, being dubbed the biggest surprise of the postseason after making the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Sweeping the Cubs in the wild-card round, the Marlins have a farm system teeming with talent in J.J. Bleday, Jesús Sánchez and Jazz Chisholm, and, well, are now proud owners of the MLB’s third-lowest payroll. As one who will oversee the front office personnel, contract negotiations and roster decisions, Ng is certainly in a position to make an impact. And with more than 30 years of experience in the industry, she is more than capable of doing so.
“We look forward to Kim bringing a wealth of knowledge and championship-level experience to the Miami Marlins,” said Marlins CEO Derek Jeter. “Her leadership of our baseball operations team will play a major role on our path toward sustained success.”
Ng’s love for baseball was sparked by her father, whom she lost when she was just 11 years old. She proceeded to grow up a Yankees fan and played softball and tennis in high school.
“Her on-base percentage was ridiculous,” said Deborah Paul, Ng’s coach for both sports, in a recent interview with MLB.com’s Matt Monagan. “She just knew what to do, how to work the pitcher, what to do with runners on base. She knew the game. You know, a lot of girls like to play, but they don’t know the game. With Kim, you’d start saying the sentence and she’d finish it for you.”
After four years of varsity softball and a senior thesis on Title IX at the University of Chicago, Ng began her MLB career as an intern for the Chicago White Sox in 1990 and immersed herself in entry-level tasks such as operating the radar gun and mapping pitches. She was hired to work in their front office full time by 1991 and became the youngest person to present and win a salary arbitration case in 1995. Ng has since served as the assistant GM for both the Yankees and the Dodgers (winning three World Series rings along the way) and had been the senior vice president of baseball operations for the MLB since 2011.
What is most remarkable about Ng, however, is not her resume but her character. She was one to tell her younger sister that she’d only know she’d played hard if her uniform was dirty. When Ng was mocked by former Dodgers executive Bill Singer for her Chinese heritage, she kept things professional. And after having interviewed for the GM position with six different teams over the past 15 years, Ng kept her head up and interviewed with a seventh.
There’s no doubt this grit, poise and perseverance will inspire generations of female sports enthusiasts to come.
But as exciting as Ng’s hire may be, the sports industry must ask itself: Why did this take so long? Countless coaches and analysts have deemed her worthy of the position for years. Was it just because she is a woman?
While Harris was right in stating that this is a country of possibilities, we still have a long way to go before young girls see her remarks come to fruition. Ng’s legacy as the first female GM should have been cemented years ago. Female athletes are still being paid just a fraction of what their male counterparts are and receive far less coverage in the media. Beyond sports, women continue to face sexist barriers in the workforce and in academia.
Baseball is slow. And so is progress. But in the words of Ng herself, sometimes, “you just have to keep plowing through.”