Baseball is a game of milestones.
Babe Ruth’s 714 career home runs, and Hank Aaron eclipsing Ruth with 755 round-trippers. Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947. Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive games. The Chicago Cubs ending their 108-year World Series championship drought.
Now another big one: The Miami Marlins named Kim Ng as their general manager, the first woman hired as a major league GM. She is also the first Asian American GM.
It’s a milestone not just for baseball.
Ng is the first woman hired as a general manager in any major men’s professional sport in North America. A glass ceiling that has endured from Branch Rickey to George Halas, through the Michael Jordan and Patrick Kane eras, finally comes down.
In a year of empty stadiums, truncated seasons and COVID-19 injured lists, Ng’s ascent gives Americans something to celebrate.
It also raises a question.
Why did it take so long for team owners in major men’s professional sports to realize that top executive posts should be gender-blind?
Ng has Chicago roots. After graduating from the University of Chicago where she played softball, Ng worked in the White Sox front office for six years, including a stint as assistant director of baseball operations. Later, she worked as an assistant GM for the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and was Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of baseball operations before heading to Miami.
Other women have taken on larger roles in baseball in recent years. Three teams, the Yankees, the San Francisco Giants and the Cubs, now have female assistant coaches. Eve Rosenbaum is the Baltimore Orioles’ director of baseball development. Jean Afterman is a Yankees assistant general manager and Raquel Ferreira is an executive vice president and assistant GM with the Boston Red Sox.
In a statement tweeted by the Yankees, Afterman sums it up well: “Her hiring demonstrates what I have long said, that to be a GM in Major League Baseball, you need intelligence, vision and experience. These qualities of leadership, which Kim possesses in abundance, are gender-blind.”
GMs need to be skilled talent finders. They must love to compete and hate to lose. They need to show a keen sense for money management in a world of salary caps and multimillion dollar contracts. And they must show the vision it takes to chart a course to a championship.
Finding someone who checks all those boxes is all about a person’s skill set, not gender.
Inequities in how women are treated in sports still abound. The U.S. women’s national soccer team has won Olympic gold four times, but has yet to win its fight for equal pay. The American women’s national hockey team in 2017 had to threaten to boycott to get better pay, which today amounts to about $71,000 annually for each player.
Women get the gold, but men get the money.
Here’s hoping Ng’s achievement is not just a milestone, but a steppingstone to a time when top leadership jobs in professional sports are attained solely on, as Afterman says, “intelligence, vision and experience.”
The glass ceiling has been an ugly barrier in American society for far too long. Thank goodness Ng and the Marlins just smashed a line drive through it.
— Chicago Tribune