ARLINGTON, Tex. — When Kim Ng was hired to lead the Miami Marlins in November 2020, it made national news. She was on “Today” and got a text message from former first lady Michelle Obama. The weight of being the first woman and the first person of East Asian descent to serve as general manager of an MLB team meant everything she did was a headline.
Women in the industry, and some outside of it, texted me at the time about the gravity of the moment — how it was about time, and why did it take so long, and would this open the door for more women in sports, particularly baseball?
Privately, we all hoped the most you can hope for when a woman from an underrepresented group enters a high-profile position in a male-dominated world: Please be good enough to keep your job.
But it was how that job ended that truly speaks volumes.
Kim Ng was a reluctant trailblazer. Now, she’s a certified badass.
There are only 30 MLB teams. Only 30 people who truly lead a baseball operations staff. And Ng —who declined her part of a mutual option for 2024— walked away the minute it was apparent she was no longer going to be one of them. She did it without (to our knowledge) another job in hand. She did it matter-of-factly, telling The Athletic’s Tyler Kepner that she and owner Bruce Sherman were “not completely aligned on what (baseball operations) should look like and I felt it best to step away.”
Just spoke with Kim Ng, who stepped down as Marlins GM this morning. She said: “Last week, Bruce (Sherman) and I discussed his plan to reshape the Baseball Operations department. In our discussions, it became apparent that we were not completely aligned… 1/3
— Tyler Kepner (@TylerKepner) October 16, 2023
And in doing so, Ng did more in minutes for women in sports — many of whom still constantly feel, subconsciously or otherwise, that we’re lucky to have our jobs and shouldn’t rock the boat by asking for the pay or power of our male counterparts — than she did the three years before that.
Know your worth. Ng knows hers.
The Marlins lapped up the positive press that came with hiring Derek Jeter to a CEO position and his decision to hire Ng, who he said at the time was simply the best person for the job. (What a novel concept!)
Jeter departed less than two years ago, saying that the organization wasn’t going to do what he’d been told they would from a competitive (and spending) standpoint. He had his critics, both outside and within the Marlins organization.
Ng, who was informed last week in speaking to Sherman that the organization wanted to hire a president above her, also had her critics. Though she was lauded by a majority of the organization for turning around the culture and getting the Marlins to their first full-season playoff appearance since 2003, there wasn’t universal support. Detractors say she can be abrasive, she’s tough to work for, that she put holdovers from previous Marlins regimes who weren’t pulling their weight on notice. In other words, she’s a woman in a position of power not content to smile glibly and say, “I’m just happy to be here” about a role she’s been qualified for for years. (Never mind that people often laud men for that same brashness and anoint them as strong leaders.)
Ng wanted to make changes, to restructure baseball operations to have people who echoed her vision all pulling on the same rope. Manager Skip Schumaker and assistant general manager Oz Ocampo were among those who recently sung her praises to The Athletic. Instead, she was essentially told: Nice job, but we’re hiring someone to really be in charge now.
It’s likely Ng was already one of the lowest-paid general managers in baseball, as Miami is a smaller MLB market and Sherman isn’t exactly known for lavish spending. (At least, not on the team he owns. He treated his boat better than the person most responsible for the team’s success.)
One step forward, two steps back. That’s how it feels women move in sports sometimes. The same week Alyssa Nakken interviewed for the Giants’ managerial position, Ng felt disrespected enough to step down from a job it took three decades for her to get.
At a time when women are increasingly being hired for traditionally male roles, we throw around firsts and talk about the shattering of glass ceilings more than ever. Ng is a reminder that merely getting the job shouldn’t be the end game. It’s having success in the role, fighting to do it your way, and making it easier for other women and people from underrepresented groups to follow your path.
Women are not just happy to be here. We’re not bright, shiny objects to put atop your press release like lawn decorations.
Ng sure as hell isn’t.
(Top photo: Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)