Miami Marlins General Manager Kim Ng is looking for her next club, having declined her end of a mutual option for the 2024 season.
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If you’re a woman who loved baseball in the late 90s/early 2000s, Kim Ng likely holds a special place in your heart. This was before Jessica Mendoza was on Sunday Night Baseball, before Jenny Cavnar was on Rockies’ broadcasts, before teams started hiring women like Alyssa Nakken and Rachel Folden to coach men on the fundamentals. Back then, women working on the ops side of baseball were pretty much non-existent. There was only Kim Ng. The lone woman who had smashed through the glass ceiling of the ultimate boys’ club.
Though we expected her to get hired as a GM much sooner, it was a cause for celebration when the Marlins hired Ng as their GM in November 2020. The 2020 season was a COVID-shortened one, but in 2019, the Marlins had finished a woeful 57-105, with a miserable .352 winning percentage. They wound up 40 games out of first place. But in Ng’s first full season with Miami, the team won 10 more games than the previous season. In 2022, the team won more games than that. And in 2023, with a shoestring MLB budget of just $91.7 million, Ng put together an 84-78 team that claimed an NL Wild Card. For reference, the New York Mets’ budget for 2023 was more than $353 million, and the Yankees’ was $262 million. The St. Louis Cardinals, who are smack dab in the middle of the MLB in terms of salary, had a 2023 budget of $175 million. You see where I’m going with this.
Predictably, as news of Ng’s departure began to trickle out, so did the report that any woman working in a male-dominated industry could have seen coming:
Good on Ng for knowing her worth and having the guts to walk, knowing very well that every job in MLB could be her last. It’s a contradiction women working in sports have all dealt with at some point: Being grateful for the precious, rare opportunity you’ve been given, while also chafing against the truth that you’re being treated differently than your male counterparts.
Winning in Major League Baseball is still hard. Speaking as a fan of a team that was supposed to compete for the World Series for years to come, but only wound up winning the NLCS the same year they won their lone World Series in 108 years, it doesn’t matter how many stars you stack on your team (CoughSanDiegoCough) or how much money you spend (looking at you, Mets), things happen during a season. Key players get hurt. Guys have down seasons. Clubhouses never quite come together. Postseason berths are precious things. And, even racking my brain, I can’t remember another MLB GM getting demoted after snagging one.
And make no mistake, this would have been a demotion for Ng. She’d be going from the top of the pyramid in baseball ops to a number two. The Marlins are so well known for their terrible decision-making that it’s hard to tell if sexism or just plain incompetence is behind their decision, but I can guarantee you that the new President of Baseball Ops job wasn’t going to go to a woman.
I once had a colleague say to me, as I was complaining about a lack of opportunities for women in sports broadcasting, “Hey, a million women would love to have your job,” as if that ended the discussion or cured the blatant sexism that continues to taint the industry. And this is where a lot of women get trapped. A million women would have loved to have had my job. And I was grateful for it. But merely including a token woman here or there in the old boys’ club doesn’t mean that they are being treated fairly or equitably. At the same time, women don’t get a lot of chances in many male-dominated industries. Betting on yourself is a lot harder when you know you might not even get in the door at the next place.
This weekend, the San Francisco Giants announced that they’ve officially interviewed coach Alyssa Nakken for their vacant managerial position. That’s great for Nakken and for women in the league, but we’ve seen this playbook before. How many NBA teams announced that they had interviewed Becky Hammon for a head coaching gig before she left for the WNBA?
Kim Ng has been smashing down doors for women in baseball for more than two decades now. She’s never been one to lean into being the first woman GM or to talk much about the challenges she faced to get there. But, most importantly, she’s been showing women that it can be done. It’s possible to rise through the ranks into the front office and work on the baseball side of Major League Baseball. But by walking away from the Marlins, who clearly don’t value her baseball acumen as they should, Ng is showing women something even more important: Nothing, nothing, is more important than knowing your own value in the circles you navigate. Kim Ng knows hers.
If there’s any justice in the world of sports, your MLB team is on the phone with her right now.