Life of a trailblazer: Why Kim Ng, the first woman hired as an MLB GM, always kept going

A few decades pass. Then, and it’s almost astonishing, she’s a few days short of her 52nd birthday. The days in between were about the job, this task and then the next, making this team better and then another, then growing the game, sometimes by riding along with it, sometimes by taking hold and dragging it another few inches.

The game could be a joy and the game could be stubborn, ever depending on the day and its mood. It is cruel. It has a sense of humor. The game is so beautiful on a winter’s day on a ballfield outside Santo Domingo it’d about make you cry. Dozens of skinny 16-year-olds with loose arms and looser smiles had packed up and gone home, many to dream of professional contracts and easier lives.

At the end of that long day, Kim Ng was hungry. We agreed to meet in the hotel lobby at dinnertime. There was a restaurant somewhere in the city we’d been told to try. Days before, a hotel bartender had warned, “Don’t leave the hotel after dark.”

“But…,” I’d said.

“No,” he’d said. “Don’t.”

So we climbed into the back of a waiting taxi and told him the name of the restaurant.

“Thirty dollars,” he said. “American. Pay first.”

That was a lot. The place was farther than we’d thought, we supposed. We also weren’t going to walk. We nodded.

The man turned the key. The car rattled and shook and started. He shifted into first gear and we were off. After half a block, he pulled to the curb and stopped. He’d never gotten into second gear. He waved his hand to the right. Our restaurant.

“Here,” he said triumphantly, as though we’d just jumped through a ring of fire and landed safely.

First there was only the sound of the unhealthy engine. We looked at each other. Then, laughter. We’d been got and got good. Our $30 was deep in this man’s pocket. We were maybe 250 feet from the front door of the hotel. We could’ve run it faster. And cheaper.

Dinner was great. The walk back was uneventful. The 30 bucks expensed.

Many years later, on a Friday morning in November 2020, Kim Ng was announced as general manager of the Miami Marlins. She’d be the first woman to run a major North American sports franchise. This was a historic day.

UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2000:  Kim Ng, New York Yankees' vice president and assistant general manager at spring training camp.  (Photo by Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Kim Ng, shown here around 2000 at spring training, served as a Yankees assistant GM. (Photo by Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

And what came to me was that taxi ride in that foreign place. You get in, pay your dues, roll down the windows and then see where it takes you.

An intern at MLB headquarters.

Front offices for the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Nearly a decade back with MLB, running international operations, encouraging more girls and boys to play, seeking diversity and inclusion.

The next job, the ones she wanted, went to someone else. To people who looked the same and talked the same and were educated the same, to the old and new standard of who — and what — was supposed to run a baseball team. Kim Ng kept showing up. She kept getting in, paying her dues, rolling down her window. It wasn’t her courage she’d question, but perhaps that of the old men who made these hires, the system that made these hires, the culture she’d given herself over to and took hold of and dragged another few inches.

A text message arrived from a longtime baseball man, a friend of Ng’s who in one place or another had stood alongside her.

“I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “So proud.”

And that was it, right? A little proud that Derek Jeter and the Marlins and baseball had made the right hire. Far more proud that Kim Ng had kept stacking honest days upon honest days, had run off too many resumes to remember anymore, had looked into the eyes of a few of those old men and just knew it’d be the last time they talked about that job, and kept going. Kept learning. Kept sacrificing. Kept watching men with half her resume land twice her job. And kept coming back the next day, because she was her and she was good at it and that was the job and she was … qualified.

A dozen years ago, we’d sat in the stands at Dodger Stadium kicking around the idea she’d one day be a general manager and what that would mean.

“See,” she’d said, “it’s your assumption when you say, ‘There’s no one like you.’ There are people like me. There are people that grew up loving baseball. There are people that work their way up from being interns. There are people that have been assistant general managers for a long time that eventually do become general managers. So there are people like me. Or, I am like other people.

“I can’t necessarily go through life thinking that I’m different. I don’t know where that gets me, really.”

That is the journey. Today, it is the trailblazer’s journey. Some days it won’t get you all the way down the block. Others, man, imagine the places you’ll see. Imagine the things you’ll do. Imagine the people you’ll inspire. Imagine the things you’ll build. Imagine who’s got next.

It took too long. Far, far too long. It’s here now. Better roll down the window.

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