Marlins’ pioneering GM Ng: ‘Failure is not an option for me’

MIAMI (AP) — Every baseball general manager needs to win, especially the first female GM.

Kim Ng knows it. She spent years beating her head against sports’ glass ceiling, until the Miami Marlins hired her in October as general manager. At her introductory news conference, she said she felt as though a 10,000-pound weight had been lifted — from one shoulder to the other.

“Failure is not an option for me,” Ng says.

Derek Jeter knows it.

“I joke with Kim all the time,” says the Marlins’ CEO, who hired Ng, “saying, ‘Only time will tell whether it was the right decision.’”

Billie Jean King knows it, too. The tennis Hall of Famer, herself a pioneering woman, applauds Ng but said the role comes with pressure.

“The toughest part for us is you know that if you don’t do a great job, you’re going to get killed, and it hurts the others coming after you,” King says. “When you’re the first, you don’t want to ever be the last — that’s what every woman thinks. I’m sure Jackie Robinson thought, ‘I don’t want to be the last Black guy.’”

In other words: Go Marlins. They open their season Thursday with a roster that carries a female executive’s imprint, and it might just be their best team in more than a decade.

For Ng, so far so good. She left an executive position with Major League Baseball to join the Marlins, the long-downtrodden franchise on the upswing since Jeter’s ownership group took over in 2017. During the offseason, amid the constraints of the team’s perennially tight budget, she signed veteran slugger Adam Duvall and swung deals to revamp the bullpen.

Now keeping score begins for the Boys of Summer — and for the first female GM in the four major North American professional sports leagues. She’s also a trailblazing Asian American.

Among those who can best appreciate Ng’s challenge is her hero, King, the daughter of a former major league scout, sister of a former big league pitcher, and part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Visiting Dodger Stadium shortly after she bought a share of the team last October, King was quickly reminded what it’s like to be a woman on a ballfield.

“I had forgotten what an old-boy network it is,” she says. “I felt like I was back in the ’50s and was 9 years old again. As a woman, you’re definitely on the outside.”

Ng (pronounced Ang) entered that world as a Chicago White Sox intern in 1990. She won three World Series rings while spending 21 years in the front offices of the White Sox, Yankees and Dodgers, and spent the past nine years with MLB as a senior vice president.

Jeter, baseball’s first Black CEO, reached out to her regarding the Miami job.

“All she needed was an opportunity,” said Jeter, who played with the Yankees when Ng worked for them. “Everyone talked about how historic it was, but I didn’t make this decision to be historic. I made this decision because it was the best decision for the organization.”

After being hired, Ng said she had been turned down for a similar job by at least five other teams over the past 15 years.

“I’ve had to definitely win people’s respect, and that is a constant battle,” Ng says. “The job is hard enough, right? So when you put that on top of it, at time it’s a drag. It’s aggravating. What brings you back to neutral is you either deal with it or you go home, and I’ve never wanted to go home.”

Ng, 52, played stickball as a grade-schooler in New York City, and softball at the University of Chicago. As she set her sights on a baseball career, she had an idea what she was getting into.

She read the 1970 tell-all bestseller “Ball Four,” which exposed the sport’s boys-will-be-boys world that is less so today.

“Less so,” she says dryly, “but there are still some elements.”

Ng navigates that world with what Yankees general manager Brian Cashman describes as “an amazing disposition.”

“She’s very inclusive, she’s very approachable, she listens,” Cashman said. “She creates an atmosphere of comfort and team-building. The reason she has risen through the ranks is the way she connects with everybody.”

Ng is married to Tony Markward, who owns a wine company based in Oregon. She has no children, aside from the 250 players in the Marlins’ organization. Markward will be part of the crowd on opening day but spends a lot of his time out West, while she tries to win the NL East.

Ng is frequently reminded of the magnitude of her job, such as when a friend’s 8-year-old daughter came home from school with a pamphlet that acclaimed the Marlins’ new general manager.

She knows she’s not the only symbol of progress for women in sports. That growing group includes Marlins COO Caroline O’Connor, Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller, Super Bowl official Sarah Thomas and San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon.

Even so, Ng’s path is uncharted, and scrutiny will be intense.

“She asked me — any advice?” Cashman said. “The only advice I gave her was: Win. That’s the biggest part of every one of these job descriptions.”

March is Women’s History Month, but April looms, and Ng knows it’s all about the future.

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