Kim Ng had been waiting for 15 years.
A University of Chicago wonderkid, she was first hired as an intern by the Chicago White Sox in 1991 at the age of 21. She became the youngest assistant general manager in the MLB when she signed on with the New York Yankees at 29. Ng’s next stops included the role of assistant general manager (GM) for the Los Angeles Dodgers and then senior vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball itself in 2011. Ng interviewed for her first general manager position in 2005, and has interviewed for the position with five different teams since. Finally, on Nov. 13, 2020, Ng was hired as GM of the Miami Marlins, becoming the first female GM in the history of any of the major men’s sports leagues in North America as well as the first Chinese American in the role.
Intern to assistant GM in eight years. But 22 years to go from assistant GM to general manager. 15 years of interviewing for GM jobs. 30 years in the league total. Three rings to her name. It took until 2020. So, what took so freaking long?
My question is rhetorical. I think we all know the reason.
Ng has been proving herself ready for this job her entire career. She succeeded early as an intern and Assistant Director of Baseball Operations for the White Sox, impressing with her eagerness to learn, leadership and judgement. She became the youngest person to win and the first woman to present a salary arbitration case in the major leagues in 1995, a case against a client of mega-agent Scott Boras, nonetheless. Her talent and vision was valued and seen early as she quickly climbed the ranks of MLB front offices all the way to VP—which is in fact a role traditionally held by the general manager.
By the time she embarked on her first interview for the GM role with the Dodgers in 2005, Ng had experience in three of the oldest major league organizations and the league office, had been working in the executive suite for 10 years and had won three rings with the Yankees. In short, she was respected and accomplished in player development and scouting. The Dodgers eventually ended up hiring Ned Colletti, an incredibly experienced and successful exec himself, who naturally kept Ng on as an assistant.
Hey, maybe she needed more experience. She was 38, an undeniable talent and leader, but she would have plenty of opportunities to come. Five more opportunities to come, to be exact. While she worked for the MLB as senior vice president of baseball operations directing international dealings Ng was passed over by the Mets, Phillies, Giants, Mariners and Padres, prior to last Friday when she was hired by the Marlins. At this point, she was as experienced and versed as anyone in the game––so why did it take seven teams until one finally hired her ? Experience and age were no longer an excuse––at the age of 52, Ng is currently the sixth-oldest out of 26 GMs and her resume is as admired as they come. So, again, what took so freaking long?
The answer is this: Kim Ng is a woman, and specifically a woman of color. And in a time when the hiring of a woman for a coaching staff or front office in any of the big four men’s professional sports leagues is news to be celebrated, women are still just beginning to be seen and listened to in men’s professional sports. The opportunities are hard to come by, but even when they may come, women have to be overqualified, fearless and thick-skinned just to get an interview. The major leagues of professional sports have always been a boys’ club––emblematic of masculinity, strength, father-son bonding, competition. Women who seek to enter this closed-off world face isolation, doubt, projected fragility, questioning and harassment. Once a woman even gets her foot in the door, all of that is only multiplied. Ng has dealt with more than her fair share while working in roles that were never created for her: both publicly, such as when former pro and Mets front office employee Bill Singer mocked Ng for her Chinese-American ancestry during general manager meetings in 2003, and most definitely behind closed doors. And she was punished for trying to achieve her dream in an industry dominated by white men by being forced to wait 30 long years for the role she had always wanted. To put that in perspective, Ng has waited longer than Theo Epstein had been alive when he was named GM for the Boston Red Sox in 2002 at the age of 28. Not to say that Epstein hasn’t proven to be one of the most talented execs in the history of baseball, but who is to say that Ng couldn’t have been on a similar trajectory if she was given the GM job in 2005 at the age of 38? Instead, she has bided her time and waited until the sport finally appreciated and recognized her.
“Who will be the first woman GM?” The question floated around Ng since 2005––the heir apparent, dangling above her head for 15 years, seemingly always out of reach. But now, she has finally been crowned, and uplifts with her generations of women, past and present, who have yearned to see someone like themselves in the highest offices of professional sports.
Myself included. When I was in seventh grade, my best friend and I would imagine ourselves as President and GM of our own NFL team named the Bowling Green Bison, the BG Bison for short, after our own high school in Illinois. Our parents laughed at our imaginations, and we long ago moved on to more realistic dreams, but as I read that Kim Ng had—finally!—been hired as the first female GM in the history of men’s professional sports in North America on Friday, you’d best be sure I texted my best friend, “you still down to run a sports team?”