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November 21, 2020

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A woman in charge, and it’s about time

THE Miami Marlins’ new general manager sat at home plate in the team’s ballpark on Monday, reflecting on all the times she struck out.

As baseball’s first female GM, Kim Ng can bask in a breakthrough achievement that’s all the more admirable because she was turned down for a similar job by at least five other teams over the past 15 years.

“After decades of determination, it is the honor of my career to lead the Miami Marlins,” Ng said in a statement. “When I got into this business, it seemed unlikely a woman would lead a major league team, but I am dogged in the pursuit of my goals. My goal is now to bring championship baseball to Miami.”

During an hour-long introductory virtual news conference, Ng confessed she had doubted whether the moment would ever come for her.

“Look, it’s a tribute to the idea that you just have to keep plowing through,” she said. “That’s what this is. It’s like what we tell the players — you can mope and sulk for a few days, but that’s it. You’ve got to come back, and that’s what I’ve been able to do. I’ve been defeated and deflated numerous times, but you keep hoping.”

And now, Ng (pronounced Ang) has earned a win for women everywhere. She is believed to be the first female general manager in the four major North American professional sports leagues and she’s also being saluted as a pioneering Asian American, even overseas.

“Apparently I have a small little fan club in China,” she said.

The groundbreaking Asian American joins at the top ranks of her profession the San Francisco Giants’ president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi. She becomes the fifth person to hold the Marlins’ top position in baseball operations and succeeds Michael Hill, who was not retained after the 2020 season.

“I think this is the most noteworthy day for baseball since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947,” said Richard Lapchick, an expert on race and gender in sports at the University of Central Florida.

Ng celebrated her achievement with her four sisters and her mother, who was born in China and came to the United States at age 5.

Other ceiling-busting women offered congratulations, from Michelle Obama to Billie Jean King.

Ng said at least 500 people have told her they’re now Marlins fans. She’s especially heartened to set an example for young girls who might aspire to a career in sports management.

“There’s an adage: You can’t be it if you can’t see it. Now you can see it,” she said.

“All of us at Major League Baseball are thrilled for Kim and the opportunity she has earned with the Marlins,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

“Kim’s appointment makes history in all of professional sports and sets a significant example for the millions of women and girls who love baseball and softball. The hard work, leadership, and record of achievement throughout her long career in the national pastime led to this outcome.”

Ng, who turned 52 on Tuesday, started her baseball career as a Chicago White Sox intern in 1990.

She went up against super agent Scott Boras before she turned 30, winning an arbitration case she presented against pitcher Alex Fernandez. And for the past nine years she was a senior vice president for Major League Baseball.

She spent four years with the New York Yankees when their star shortstop was Derek Jeter, now the Marlins’ CEO. By reaching out to her regarding the Miami job, she said, Jeter showed fearlessness.

“Derek embodies that word,” Ng said. “I was privileged to watch Derek for four years every day on the field, and that was his approach to the game. He left it all out there every single day. Fearlessness on the field, and now with this, we see it off the field.”

Ng joins a long-suffering franchise on the upswing. The Marlins reached the playoffs this year for the first time since 2003 and have built one of baseball’s best farm systems since Jeter’s group bought the team three years ago.

“When I first reached out to Kim, I think through our first couple of conversations it became evident to both of us that this was a perfect fit,” Jeter said.

“We look forward to Kim bringing a wealth of knowledge and championship-level experience to the Miami Marlins.”

“Her leadership of our baseball operations team will play a major role on our path toward sustained success. Additionally, her extensive work in expanding youth baseball and softball initiatives will enhance our efforts to grow the game among our local youth as we continue to make a positive impact on the South Florida community,” Jeter added.

Ng’s father introduced her to baseball, and she learned the game by playing stickball while in elementary school in Queens.

“First base would be the red car on the right,” she said.

“Second base was the manhole. Third base was the green car on the left, and another manhole for home. Those are great memories.”

She attended her first game at Yankee Stadium in the late 1970s, and her favorite player was catcher Thurman Munson. She played shortstop for the University of Chicago’s softball team, and then began to climb the major league ranks.

There was occasional resistance. In 2003, a New York Mets scout was fired for making racially insensitive remarks to Ng at baseball’s GM meetings, when she was with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Some teams that gave her job interviews didn’t really seem interested in hiring her, she said.

Even now, as she reaches the pinnacle in her profession, Ng said she feels as though a 10,000-pound weight has been transferred from one shoulder to the other.

“You’re bearing the torch for so many,” Ng said. “That’s a big responsibility, but I take it on.”

As baseball’s first female general manager, she embraces the chance to be judged on wins and losses.

This is a woman who knows baseball — and knows how to get things done.

“I was never hired to just nod my head,’’ she said. “My biggest advice is voice your opinion.”

The opinion among most in baseball is that the Marlins have a winner in Ng.

Judging from the ease with which she handled her opening press conference they also have someone willing to be the face of the franchise should Jeter want to stay in the background.

Eventually she will be judged on how many games the Marlins win and whether they can make the playoffs on a regular basis. That’s something that comes with the territory of anyone who holds the title of general manager, a job that doesn’t come with a large amount of job security.

Ng is OK with that, just like she’s OK with being the role model for those coming after her. She embraces the role of pioneer and is unafraid of the challenges ahead.

Just the kind of general manager the Marlins need. Exactly the kind of role model girls everywhere deserve.

“Anything is possible, that’s my message to your little girl,” she said when asked yet again what she would say about her appointment to young girls.

“Just work your butt off and keep your nose to the grindstone.’’


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