Last November, Kim Ng shattered a major glass ceiling in American sports when she became the general manager of the Miami Marlins. The feat made her the first female and first Asian American to hold the position in Major League Baseball’s (MLB) 152-year history. Some sports historians believe that it is also the first time in the history of all American men’s sports that a woman has held the coveted position.
For as long as Ng can remember, baseball has been an integral part of her life. But being a woman in a “man’s game” has brought more than its fair share of struggles. From her upbringing as a woman of color in the Queens borough of New York City to her inspiring rise to become a titan of the baseball industry, Ng’s story is nothing short of legendary and brings baseball one step closer to being a sport fit for the 21st century.
Ng grew up just blocks from Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets, but always rooted for the New York Yankees, the cross-town rival, with her father. When her father passed away when she was 11-years-old, Ng dedicated her life to baseball and became a student of the game, even playing on the sandlot with the local boy’s team.
Ng recalled the comments she would often receive from the boys at the sandlot.
“You know, ‘You can’t play because you’re a girl,’” Ng said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “I never really let that stop me, because I was better than some of the boys. I’ve just always had that mentality.”
Ng went on to play Division III softball at the University of Chicago.
“I just wanted to go to the best school that I could get into,” she said to Rolling Stone. “I also wanted to play softball, and I wasn’t being recruited by D-I schools. The University of Chicago was a good fit because it was a great school and because I could play there.”
Shortly after graduating in 1990, her softball coach put her in touch with the Chicago White Sox organization, thus beginning Ng’s 30-year career in baseball. With the White Sox, Ng helped pioneer the advanced statistics and data analytics used across baseball today.
“I think early on in my career I was definitely a novelty,” she said to Rolling Stone, recalling her experience of being the only woman in the entire front office. “People were skeptical, but I gradually won them over. I approached learning in a very respectful way, and I think they appreciated that.”
After long stints in the front offices of the New York Yankees, where she helped organize a three-time championship team, and the Los Angeles Dodgers as assistant general manager, Ng was hired in 2011 as senior vice president for Baseball Operations at the MLB Headquarters in New York. Having never given up on her lifelong dream of leading an MLB franchise, she suddenly found herself on the shortlist for the general manager position of over 10 MLB teams.
But the glass ceiling of baseball started to chip away at Ng’s career. She interviewed for the top job with the Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels and San Francisco Giants, but all those positions went to male applicants both with shorter careers and less prestigious experience. Ng suspected that the job offers were not genuine and that teams were just checking a box that would look good on diversity and inclusion reports. Still though, she believed that it was only a matter of time.
“It just had to be somebody who kept that notion of a woman running a club alive,” Ng said in an interview with Yahoo Sports. “It’s pretty crushing when you get turned down. To put myself through that was not always fun. But I thought it was necessary.”
After years of not giving up, Ng received a call in November 2020 from an old friend from her days in New York: former Yankees superstar Derek Jeter who, after retiring as a player in 2014, went on to become CEO of the Miami Marlins and the first Black CEO in MLB history. Ng thought it was just another job interview. Like so many times before, she launched into her usual in-depth presentation on her vision for the team before Jeter quickly interrupted her after only a few seconds, making it clear that he had made his decision before the interview even began. In the blink of an eye, the Marlins were Ng’s team.
In the spirit of unity, Ng is a member of a WhatsApp group of about 80 women in baseball. They were all ecstatic when the news of Ng’s hiring broke. Ng is now rated among the top five most powerful women in sports worldwide. Even with the outpouring of support, Ng acknowledges there is still some speculation on her future.
“I think there are degrees by which I will be judged,” Ng said to Yahoo Sports. “If the Marlins don’t make it to the World Series, I don’t think people are going to see it as a failure.”
Either way, she acknowledges she has a common goal with every other general manager in baseball — win a world series. And with her newfound support, Ng will surely be giving people every reason to remember the name.