Kim Ng knows this. For years, she struggled with the glass ceiling in sports until she was hired by the Miami Marlins as general manager in October. During her opening press conference, she said she felt like a 10,000-pound weight had been lifted – from one shoulder to the other.
Failure is not an option for me, says Ng.
Derek Jeter knows that.
I always joke with Kim, said the Marlins CEO who hired Ng: Only time will tell if this was the right decision.
Billie Jean King knows it too. The tennis champion, herself a pioneer, cheered Ms. Ng concedes, but says the role comes with some pressure.
The hardest thing for us is knowing that if we don’t do our job right, we will be killed, and that will hurt others who come after us, King says. If you’re the first, you don’t want to be the last. That’s what all women think. I’m sure Jackie Robinson thought… I don’t want to be the last black man.
In other words: Come on, Marlins. They open their season on Thursday with a women’s leadership team, and this may be their best team in over a decade.
For Ng, so far so good. She left an executive position in Major League Baseball to join the Marlins, a franchise on the rise since Jeter took over ownership in 2017. In the offseason, the team contracted veteran Adam Duvall and took steps to improve the bullpen amid a tight budget.
I’ve definitely had to earn people’s respect, and that’s a constant struggle, Ng said of his rise in the MLB. Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports
Now the Boys of Summer – and the first female CEO in four major North American professional sports leagues – are starting to score. She is also a pioneer of Asian America.
Among those who can best appreciate Ng’s challenge is his hero King, daughter of a former Major League scout, sister of a former Major League pitcher and co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
When she visited Dodger Stadium last October, shortly after buying a stake in the team, King quickly remembered what it’s like to be a woman on a baseball field.
I had forgotten what an old net it was, she said. I felt like I was transported back to the 50s and 9 years old again. As a woman, you are truly special.
Ng (pronounced Ang) entered this world in 1990 as an intern for the Chicago White Sox. She won three World Series rings after spending 21 years in the front offices of the White Sox, Yankees and Dodgers, and spent the last nine years in the MLB as a senior vice president.
Jeter, baseball’s first black general manager, approached her about the job in Miami.
All she needed was a chance, said Jeter, who played for the Yankees when Ng worked for them. Everyone said it was historic, but I didn’t make this decision to be historic. I made this decision because it was the best solution for the organisation.
After she was hired, Ng said she had been turned down by at least five other teams for similar positions in the past 15 years.
I absolutely had to earn people’s respect, and that’s a constant struggle, Ng says. The job is hard enough, isn’t it? So when you add that in, it’s an obstacle from time to time. It’s boring. You put this back in neutral: You either deal with it or you go home, and I never wanted to go home.
Failure is not an option for me.
Kim Ng, Marlins GM
Ng, 52, played stickball as a high school student in New York and softball at the University of Chicago. As she continued her baseball career, she had an idea of what was in store for her.
She read the 1970 bestseller Ball 4, which showed a world of boys wanting to be boys, in a sport that isn’t a big deal these days.
Less so, she speaks gruffly, but there are still elements.
Ng traverses this world with what Yankees general manager Brian Cashman describes as a surprising disposition.
She’s very inclusive, she’s very accessible, she listens, Cashman said. It creates an atmosphere of comfort and team cohesion. She has risen in rank because of the way she communicates with everyone.
Ms. Ng is married to Tony Markward, who owns a winery in Oregon. She has no children, outside of 250 players in the Marlins organization. Markward will be there on opening day, but he’s spending a lot of time out west to win North LA.
He is often reminded of the magnitude of his work, as when a friend’s 8-year-old daughter came home with a pamphlet praising the Marlins’ new CEO.
She knows she is not the only symbol of women’s advancement in sports. That growing group includes Marlins director of operations Caroline O’Connor, Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller, Super Bowl commissioner Sarah Thomas and San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon.
Nevertheless, the Ng path is unexplored and the observation will be intense.
She asked me… Do you have any advice to give? Cashman said. The only advice I gave him was Victory. This is the most important part of each of these job descriptions.
March is Women’s History Month, but April is just around the corner, and Ng knows it’s the future.