November 13, 2020 will be remembered as a great day in baseball and sports history.
It is a day that has made me proud to be part of this amazing game after the Miami Marlins made a groundbreaking move when they hired Kim Ng to fill their general manager’s position on Friday.
Ng is the first woman ever to be hired as a general manager in baseball. A woman has never served as a general manager in the NFL, NBA or NHL, so Major League Baseball is the first among the four major North American professional sports leagues to have one of its teams name a female as its GM.
This is progress. It is long overdue, but it is progress. It is special.
Baseball has been a pioneer over the years in a number of ways. Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in 1947 and the effects of that were felt throughout society. It opened the door not only in baseball but in other areas of culture around the world. After 9/11, it was baseball that aided the healing process in New York and across the United States.
It is not a surprise to anyone who knows Kim Ng that she is the first MLB female general manager. Her resume is worthy of the position. She has been prepared and qualified to serve in such a role for more than a decade. This was finally the time. It’s the right team, people, environment and organization.
Ng started as an intern in the Chicago White Sox organization in 1991. It has been a long, slow road for her to get to this moment. The 51-year-old has more than paid her dues. She is an expert negotiator and made a name for herself in presenting arbitration cases for the White Sox.
She also worked for the New York Yankees and became the youngest assistant general manager at the time and again was put in charge of contract negotiations. In fact, she negotiated Derek Jeter’s 10-year deal for the Yankees in 2001. She learned under general manager Brian Cashman in New York and was part of player personnel decisions, free agent negotiations and decisions in player development and scouting.
I got to know Kim well during her time with the Yankees. It became clear to me very quickly that she is always the smartest person in every conversation. There were times when Yankees owner George Steinbrenner wouldn’t let Cashman attend the general managers’ meetings or winter meetings. Ng would go in his place.
In my role as general manager of the New York Mets, I would sit next to Cashman or Ng because we sat in alphabetical order at the general managers’ meetings. As I got to know Ng better, I found her to be intelligent and someone who has good common sense. She is a very good listener which is one of the things that makes her an excellent negotiator. Often, she would remain quiet in meetings but when she did finally speak everyone would listen. Her opinion mattered even as an assistant general manager. She is professional, classy and very hard working.
For the small-market Marlins, the ability to negotiate contracts is an important attribute. They don’t usually get involved in mega-free-agent deals but they do have to make prudent deals with many arbitration-eligible players. Ng has demonstrated the skill of settling deals before hearings but, more importantly, if she does go to trial she has an ability to present the club’s case and not offend the players. That is not easy to do. She has a real feel for how to treat and interact with people.
Since 2011, Ng has worked in the Commissioner’s Office which has broadened her exposure to international baseball and transactions for every club. She was biding her time until the big job came along, yet she kept learning and developing.
A tip of the cap to the Marlins and their CEO Derek Jeter for making this monumental decision. Kim Ng didn’t get the job because she is a woman. She is a highly qualified executive who just happens to be a woman. Jeter recognized that back when he was playing with the Yankees and he never forgot.
General managers used to be former players who chewed on cigars, drank scotch into the wee hours of the morning, telling each other the same stories over and over. There has been a transition over the last 20-plus years in the role. Contracts got bigger and the stakes became higher. Owners wanted more academic-types making the important decisions. That opened the door for a new breed of executive.
But the door was only open for men, until today.