Kim Ng should be the next general manager of the San Diego Padres not because the game has never had a woman general manager, and not because the glass in the game's ceiling is so old it's held in place by lead, and not because it's time, whatever that means. It's not even because Kim Ng deserves a shot, true as that might be.
Kim Ng should be the next GM of the Padres because San Diego deserves a better baseball team.
Owner Ron Fowler and president Mike Dee seek a new direction, as they up and fired the old one mid-season. The former GM's penance for the Padres not being able to hit or win enough ballgames is to spend less time watching the Padres not hit and not win while continuing to pay his utility bills with Padres money, which, ask me, is both a hit and a win.
Like any job that demands 24-hour days, vacation-less schedules and hourly public ridicule, Josh Byrnes' old gig also has some drawbacks. But, nobody is marched into these cubicles by bayonet (though enough of them act like it), so let's assume they're mostly happy to spend their days measuring the meaning of over-shifts and one-run games. At last count, the Padres will interview about eight candidates, all variously qualified, with the hopes the new GM can do more with a good farm system and ever competent manager than finish hopelessly out of contention in the NL West, which they've done in five of the past six seasons and will again in 2014.
So, what about the candidate who once was an assistant general manager for the New York Yankees and held the same job with the Los Angeles Dodgers? That's two large markets and, if you consider the Dodgers under Frank McCourt, one small market. And two somewhat, let's say, volatile owners. What about the candidate who also has worked in Chicago, for the White Sox? How about the candidate whose past several years as an MLB executive have been spent knee deep in the madness of international baseball, who has traveled the pitted roads where the prospects are, who has sorted through the politics there, who has stared down the belligerent men whose very futures rested on less MLB interference, not more?
The candidate who has negotiated contracts and trades, prepared arbitration cases, run a farm system, overseen pro scouting and run advanced analytics. The candidate whose clean and solid reputation is thick with the men who run the game, play the game, scout the game, analyze the game and sell the game.
How about that candidate? And what if that candidate were Kim Ng?
Conversations with baseball officials generally conclude with two points regarding Ng and her chances of becoming baseball's first woman general manager:
She is ridiculously qualified.
It probably won't happen.
Maybe Fowler and Dee are strong enough and secure enough, however, to hire the person most qualified to run baseball operations for the Padres. It wouldn't require breaking any barriers, or lending a hand to a whole world of young women whose interest in the game should include opportunity, or turning their back on a system that usually measures its employees by the breadth of their shoulders and heft of their Louisville Sluggers.
Though all of that would be a byproduct of hiring the person most qualified to run the Padres. That, and a better ballclub.
I spoke to a scout who has known Ng for many years and has nothing to gain from her becoming a general manager. I asked him about Ng, and the rigors of the job, managing up and down, winning today and planning for tomorrow. About the instincts necessary. About the ruthlessness necessary. About standing in a room full of people who underestimate you.
Could she do it, I asked.
"I don't have any doubt," he said. "Take away the gender. What's the problem here? I think there are all the people who think, ‘She can do it. But what if I'm wrong?'"
The scouting ranks are filled with former GM's, of course. A lot of people – men – have tried. They couldn't do it. It's a hard, relentless job. Failure comes often. Sometimes nightly. Maybe, as a sport, owners find it's better to win and lose with people – men – who look and act most like themselves.
There was this baseball manager who hated his boss and who once was a fun and interesting guy but had been worn down by the game and its politics and was no longer fun or interesting but angry and unwilling to be talked out of it.
One day he was asked if so-and-so, just a guy, in his opinion would make a decent manager. Instead of answering yes and believing it, or yes because that's what would go in the newspaper and it wouldn't be proper to say otherwise, or no if that's what he actually felt, this baseball manager responded with a question. A couple questions, really, meant to challenge the perception of the men on the top step, but really of the people who hire them.
He asked, what makes a good manager? You tell me, he said. Tell me what makes a good manager. Who is that man, he demanded. Why is he hired?
I said, he knows something about baseball. He's also 50-ish. And he's probably white.
Which, so happened, accurately described … him.
Which, probably, is why he did not respond well to the answer. And why we haven't talked much since. He'd been hired by a guy who looked a lot like him. The guy who hired him looked a lot like the guy who hired the guy who hired him. And they all looked a lot like the guys who did the hiring for the past, oh, let's say century.
The game has become slightly more generous since. Not generous: open-minded. Not open-minded: sensible. Not sensible: honest. Slightly more willing to believe – really believe – that someone not like them in some way could do a job better not only than themselves, but than anyone else.
It's baseball. It tries sometimes. And sometimes we believe it and other times it interviews the same African-American candidate for 12 jobs because the commissioner says the process must be fair.
Ng has interviewed previously to become GM in Los Angeles, Seattle, Anaheim and, once before, San Diego. Each time she returned to her job, no more bowed, chasing the game because she loves it and is good at it and not because she carries a flag for others. Honestly, sadly, there are very, very few others.
But that's not why we're here. The Padres should not concern themselves with hiring the first woman to do a job she could do and do well. They should concern themselves with hiring Kim Ng, because it's a job she could do and do well.
Because San Diego deserves a better ballclub.
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