Long-overdue baseball history was made late last week when the Miami Marlins announced they had hired Kim Ng as general manager. Ng is MLB’s first female GM, as well as the sport’s first Asian American GM, and she is also the first woman to serve as general manager in any major North American men’s league. In breaking those barriers, Ng will undoubtedly influence a younger generation of girls to aim for jobs in the traditionally male-dominated world of baseball. In the interim, she’ll also step into an intriguing situation in Miami — at the helm of what was baseball’s most surprising team in 2020.
Ng’s ascendance to the GM chair has been a long time coming. In fact, she might be one of the most qualified first-time GMs ever, based on her wealth of previous experience. After graduating from the University of Chicago in 1990, Ng began her MLB path as an intern with the Chicago White Sox, quickly becoming a full-time analyst with the club and then its assistant director of baseball operations. There, she became the youngest person — and first woman — to present an arbitration case, ultimately winning Chicago its bid over pitcher Alex Fernandez’s salary.
In 1998, Ng was named assistant GM of the New York Yankees under Brian Cashman, at the time becoming (at age 29) the youngest person in MLB to hold that post. She would go on to win three championships with the Yankees, part of a dynasty that also included current Marlins CEO Derek Jeter at shortstop. Ng spent the next decade as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ vice president and assistant GM, and she had been with MLB’s league office as its senior vice president of baseball operations since 2011.
Ng was seemingly on the short list for every GM opening in the past decade but was repeatedly passed over. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, Ng previously interviewed for GM jobs with the Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres (twice) and Seattle Mariners. Now that she is finally getting her chance with the Marlins, though, it is likely that Ng is exceptionally well-prepared to succeed — for the same reason that members of other historically underrepresented groups tend to shine once they are finally given a fair opportunity.
Think of an earlier baseball trailblazer, Jackie Robinson, who instantly played like an MVP after breaking the color barrier — representing the tip of an iceberg of great Black players who had been unjustly denied entry to MLB. Or how Black NFL quarterbacks still tend to be better than their white counterparts, decades after Doug Williams and Warren Moon: Going into Week 10, the average Black starting QB this season carried an Elo rating 24 percent better than the average white QB. This is simply a selection effect at work: People who tear down barriers of prejudice have to be that much better in order to reach the same level of status as those who don’t face discrimination.
So it would figure that Ng has more than enough ability and knowledge to be an outstanding GM. And the team she inherits contains a lot of interesting possibilities. Despite an early season COVID-19 crisis, the Marlins came out of nowhere last season to make the playoffs — and even swept a postseason series! — solidifying themselves as one of the big winners of 2020 pandemic-ball:
That said, they probably played above their heads to get there. According to our friend the Pythagorean expectation — which predicts a team’s record based on its runs scored and allowed — Miami “should have” gone 26-34 instead of 31-29, which would have left it outside the postseason picture entirely. (That five-win difference between Miami’s actual and expected records was the largest gap in baseball.) Along the way, the team found an unlikely best player in 31-year-old shortstop Miguel Rojas, whose 4.2 wins above replacement1 per 162 games towered above his previous career high of 1.8 (set in 2017). In its current state, a lot of this roster looks like what you’d expect from a team with the majors’ third-lowest payroll.
But thanks to strong drafts and a series of trades for prospects, the Marlins had a top-five farm system by the end of the 2020 regular season, with young outfielders JJ Bleday and Jesús Sánchez and shortstop Jazz Chisholm ranked as their top-ranked position players. Miami had the fifth-youngest pitching staff in MLB last season,2 spearheaded by Sixto Sánchez (in his age-21 season), Pablo López (24), Sandy Alcántara (24) and Elieser Hernández (25). (And 21-year-old right-hander Max Meyer is also on the way within the next few seasons.) For a franchise still reeling from the death of ace José Fernández, the current Marlins’ promising staff looks like a solid starting point for Ng to build from.
Of course, these are the Marlins, after all — a team synonymous with perennially low salaries, punctuated by the occasional championship fire sale. But Ng has said she wants to change the perception of the franchise.
“We are building for the long term in South Florida,” she said in a statement after her hiring was announced. “When I got into this business, it seemed unlikely a woman would lead a Major League team, but I am dogged in the pursuit of my goals. My goal is now to bring championship baseball to Miami. I am both humbled and eager to continue building the winning culture our fans expect and deserve.”
As Ng works toward her goals for her team, she’ll be simultaneously bulldozing obstacles for a future generation of women who aspire to work at the highest levels of baseball.