By Coop Daley
On November 13, 2020, the sports world was changed forever when the Miami Marlins hired Kim Ng as their General Manager. With her new position, Ng, who worked for 30 years in Major League Baseball—including stints as Assistant General Manager for both the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers—became the first woman to be named GM of any professional men’s team in major North American sports. Between settling into her new historic role and trying to improve an upstart Miami squad, Ng has had a busy few weeks, complete with a barrage of media attention and a move to Miami to deal with, all while managing the baseball off-season’s “hot stove.”
Yet, she still found time to join host Shane Barclay (her former employee) on JapanBall’s “Chatter Up!” on Jan. 6 to discuss her new historic role, share some of her favorite baseball stories, and field questions from the audience. Ng spoke about what skills she believes have most helped her career, including her negotiation skills and “strategic” empathy:
“I think the ability to really put myself in other people’s shoes [has really] helped me a lot throughout my career,” Ng said. “Some people call it empathy; I think it’s actually strategic. I think when you’re in any type of negotiation, it’s important to always try and see it from the other person’s point of view, whether you’re talking about a player or coach and they’re negotiating their contracts… it’s trying to be a little bit crafty, and get in their heads, and you really try and figure out where their pressure points are.” She added, with a laugh: “When you have a pretty good idea, then you can go in for the kill.”
Ng, whose previous job was Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations for MLB’s Office of the Commissioner, also discussed “bigger-picture” topics addressing the future of the sport. Like many “Chatter Up!” guests, Ng has plenty of experience in international baseball—helping supervise the World Baseball Classic and overseeing MLB’s growth around the world in traditional baseball countries and new ones. Ng shared some of these perspectives with the audience:
“I think MLB takes a very strong stance on trying to be ethical,” Ng said. “When I was there, it was really at the forefront of what we were trying to do… I know that we’ve taken great care in China, and were really trying to prevent what happened early on [in other countries] from happening in China. We’ve taken a hard look at some of the African countries as well; in some of these countries, record keeping and documents are not as high a priority, and some of them just don’t have the resources for it; you know, it’s difficult. We have been lucky that some of the other countries that we’ve looked at—or have been involved in—have gotten past that, but there are still some markets out there that we need to be mindful of, as they move up the ladder in terms of development.”
In discussing her new role, Ng didn’t sugarcoat her words, observing that to many she is still a “novelty,” and said that it was both humbling and heartening to watch all the praise come in. Ng also took the time to highlight the rougher parts of her role, sharing with listeners that “every day is a battle,” and described what she does to combat these struggles:
“I think it’s not just being a woman; a lot of people go through this on a daily basis, no matter where they work, it’s that you have to dispel many perceptions that are out there, as soon as you walk into a room,” Ng said. “It gets old, but I think you just have to be patient, because I think we all have our own preconceived notions. I think if you really look at yourself, and your actions and your beliefs, when people come into the room and you just take a snapshot of what you’re thinking at that moment, I think we will all realize that we have unconscious bias. I think knowing that about ourselves, we just have to try and recalibrate. I just happen to be on the end that a lot of perceptions happen just when people look at me, so I’ve just tried to be really patient over the years and try to educate people a little bit.”
Beyond the battles, however, Ng spoke optimistically about the future of women in baseball, even admitting that she hadn’t expected a woman to become a General Manager for another five years. She described to the audience how, through it all, she was happy to “carry the burden:”
“The Friday that this was all announced, it was like an out-of-body experience, where I was just watching all the text threads from my friends and my family, and I just had a blast watching it all, because they got so much joy out of it,” Ng said. “I think it was the fact that it actually happened, regardless of whether it was me or not. I think that’s the thing, I just saw so much celebration, and so that was awesome…”
In recognizing this, Ng also took the time to mention the numerous women climbing through the ranks of MLB, telling the audience that her new role went beyond just herself. She recognized the importance of this trend:
“I think [over] the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of strides in our industry for women. We saw [the] first major league coach [Alyssa Nakken] with San Francisco. I think we’re seeing a lot more women coming through the ranks, and I talked about this at the press conference: one of the things that I felt was really impressive about the Marlins, you look through the media guide at all the different staff members, and we have women who are in the analytics department, we have women who are trainers, strength and conditioning coaches; I don’t think we have a scout, but there are a handful of women who are scouts in the industry. So, I think we’ve seen a lot of progress the last couple of years. I think it’s not just me, it’s really them.”
In addition to describing the positive trends, Ng also shared advice for aspiring baseball executives, introduced participants to the Dodgers’ “Noodle Club,” and opined on how baseball can engage a new, younger audience. To hear these conversations (and more!), you can watch the full “Chatter Up!” episode on JapanBall’s YouTube channel, or read the full transcript on our website.
The “Chatter Up!” Hall of Fame keeps growing, and we’re so proud to have Kim Ng join its ranks.