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Story of Kim Ng is the (belated) story of baseball and America

John Romano | It took MLB a century to find her, but the new general manager of the Marlins is every bit as conventional and deserving as every male who arrived before her.
New Miami Marlins general manager Kim Ng poses for a photo at Marlins Park before being introduced during a virtual news conference Monday.
New Miami Marlins general manager Kim Ng poses for a photo at Marlins Park before being introduced during a virtual news conference Monday. [ JOSEPH GUZY/MIAMI MARLINS | AP ]
Published Nov. 17, 2020

This is a story for you, the baseball purist.

It’s the story of a child of immigrants playing stickball in the streets of Queens where manhole covers and car bumpers doubled as bases, and in an era when Reggie Jackson was bigger than the borders of any borough.

This is also a story for you, the quiet revolutionary.

It’s the story of a woman who chose to work in an industry of men and, after nearly three decades of climbing ladders, was finally rewarded with a big-league job that no female in North America had ever held.

This is also a story for you, the old-school battler.

It’s the story of a job candidate who suffered the indignities of being publicly turned down for one high-profile position after another, and yet persevered with quiet nobility until fortune belatedly found its way to her door.

This is the story of Kim Ng.

She is a 51-year-old former college softball player who has worked in the front offices of three of baseball’s oldest franchises and recently was named general manager of the Miami Marlins. In case you’re not aware, that’s a big deal.

It has brought praise and congratulatory messages from colleagues, athletes, entertainers and even former First Lady Michelle Obama. A handful of women have held front-office positions in the past, but none have ever run the on-field operations side for a major-league team in any sport.

“The idea that it has affected this many people is just extraordinary. I thought it would be a big deal, but this is beyond my expectations,” Ng said in a Zoom call from Marlins Park on Monday. “I think that really is a testament to where we are. People are looking for hope, people are looking for inspiration, and I’m happy that this is a part of it.”

The groundbreaking nature of this hire is important, but that good news should not diminish the struggles it took to get here. Ng (pronounced Ang) may not have endured the same harsh bigotry of earlier generations, but you have to wonder why it took so long for this opportunity to come along when less-qualified male applicants have been getting jobs year after year.

Ng has been an assistant director of baseball operations for the White Sox, an assistant general manager for both the Yankees and Dodgers, and a senior vice president for Major League Baseball. She ran the farm system for the Dodgers, and has handled contracts and arbitration cases in both New York and Los Angeles.

Her first job interview for GM came in Los Angeles in 2005 and, during the next decade, interviewed in Philadelphia, Seattle, Anaheim, San Francisco and San Diego twice. A lot of those jobs went to assistant GMs who were younger and had less experience. And a lot of those owners lived to regret their choices.

Matt Klentak was hired in Philadelphia instead of Ng and went five seasons without a winning record before stepping down. Jerry DiPoto was the GM in Anaheim for four seasons and never won a postseason game. Jack Zduriencik was GM in Seattle for seven years and never made the playoffs. A.J. Preller has been the GM in San Diego since 2015 and just made his first postseason last month.

Maybe Ng also would have struggled in those jobs but the larger issue is she never got the chance. Her name, meanwhile, was constantly thrown around MLB to give the sense of diversity in the hiring process. And she quietly endured the public rejections she knew were likely.

“There were times, maybe, where I felt like the interview wasn’t on the up-and-up but I will say that just by having my name out there was a source of hope for people,” Ng said. "It wasn’t about me. It was about others. It was about other owners who might give interviews to minorities and women. It was about the women behind me, and the women starting out in baseball and across all sports.

“(But) when your life is out there like that, and in your head you think you’re going to come up empty, it’s hard to go through.”

She says this without anger, regret or self-pity. Instead, it’s simply the arc of her story.

And even while the progression of her career moved slowly, Ng said she has seen the difference in the world through the young girls playing sports today.

“They just don’t see limits. They don’t. They’re too young, they’re too naïve, the world is their oyster and I marvel at many of the girl athletes I see today,” she said. "They just let it all hang out on that field. I have marveled at them, and wished I could be as carefree as they are.

“They are just doing something they love and that’s all they’re doing. They are an inspiration to me.”

There is an anthem in Kim Ng’s story. It is joyful and inspiring, and should always be played at full volume.

It is the song of a woman breaking barriers that have stood for more than a century in Major League Baseball. It is the unmistakable sound of progress and equality set to the backdrop of Ng’s first week of work as general manager of the Miami Marlins.

But there is also a lullaby in Kim Ng’s story. A simpler melody of little girls, innocence and possibilities.

Let’s not forget either tune.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.