I began covering baseball as a beat writer in 1993. I first heard Kim Ng’s name at the winter meetings before the 1993 season.
Talented and sharp, I was told by scouts and team executives. A fast riser. Could be a general manager someday.
They were right. Just 27 years later, Ng was hired as general manager of the Miami Marlins.
Ng started working in baseball in 1990, with the Chicago White Sox. Over the past 30 years, she has built one of the best résumés in modern baseball.
She has worked for the White Sox, Yankees and Dodgers, the American League and Major League Baseball, and she has watched as big-league teams have hired hundreds of less-qualified candidates.
She is the first woman to work as a GM in big-league baseball, or in the four most prominent men’s professional sports — MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA. She is the first woman of East Asian descent to hold such a position.
Her plight reminds me of Tony Dungy’s. As defensive coordinator of the Vikings in the ’90s, Dungy was one of the best coaches in all of football. For a few years, he interviewed for virtually every NFL head coaching opening but didn’t get hired.
Dungy recognized that he was being victimized by a racist league but employed diplomacy, saying he didn’t think NFL owners were racist, that they just were accustomed to hiring people who looked like Chuck Noll and Tom Landry.
Which is racist. Dungy just didn’t want to use that word.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally hired Dungy in 1996. He led the Bucs, one of the worst franchises in all of sport, to a run of success unprecedented in franchise history and came within a questionable call of taking the Bucs to the Super Bowl.
He was fired after a 9-7 season and hired by the Indianapolis Colts, where he won a Super Bowl. He is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
While Dungy was interviewing for head coaching jobs, NFL teams hired three white men named Rich — Kotite, Brooks and Petitbon. They are not in the NFL Hall of Fame.
Like Dungy, Ng found herself in the impossible situation of advocating for equal rights and opportunities while trying to navigate the inherently sexist hallways of Major League Baseball.
Think of all the terrible hires we’ve seen in baseball in the past 20 years. Guess what: They’re all white men, some of whom were hired because they fit a certain profile — veteran scout, Ivy League innovator, intra-organizational climber, longtime friend.
Nobody was going to hire Ng because she reminded them of someone who just won a World Series, because no women have been given a chance to build a team.
There is a modern parallel to this kind of closed thinking that does not involve white executives.
Take the remarkable case of the Black pro quarterback.
NFL teams used to look at athletes like Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray and Cam Newton (the list is longer, but I don’t have that much space) and think they should be playing safety, or receiver, or in Canada.
Major men’s professional sports leagues have traditionally discriminated, to their own detriment.
Lynx General Manager and coach Cheryl Reeve should be given the opportunity to run an NBA team, either from the front office or sideline, if she so chooses. Becky Hammon should be an NBA head coach. The list is longer, but I don’t have that much space.
Given her reputation, it would not be surprising to see Ng succeed.
What’s important to remember as we watch her work is that most men fail as general managers. Ng should be given time to prove herself, and if she doesn’t win, that shouldn’t reflect on other women candidates.
Remember, the Timberwolves once hired David Kahn and Kurt Rambis — the Ren & Stimpy of sports management — to run their franchise into the ground, and that didn’t keep anyone in the NBA from hiring more white men.