AUGUSTA, Ga. — A few hours after the Marlins made Kim Ng their general manager on Friday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred strode along the first fairway at the Masters. He had known for a few days that Miami would select Ng as the first woman to hold the position in any of the four major American men’s pro sports, but at Augusta National, where phones are not allowed on the course, the country could declare war and the golfers and spectators would have no idea. As Manfred watched another person who helped change the face of a sport, Tiger Woods, make par, someone approached who had just heard the news.
Congratulations, said two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Peyton Manning. What an accomplishment.
In a year in which so much about baseball has been bad news—a cheating scandal here, a COVID outbreak there—Friday the 13th provided a genuinely wonderful moment, and a chance to get the sports world’s attention for the right reasons.
“It really is a historic thing for our sport,” Manfred told Sports Illustrated a few minutes later. “For that side of the business, to have a woman in the GM’s job, it really is an amazing accomplishment for her.”
Ng has spent three decades in baseball, and over the years she has been linked with several open slots. But nothing has panned out. This time, Manfred thought she had a chance. And he was “really” rooting for her, he said.
Manfred met Ng early in his time in baseball, and the more he saw of her work, the more he respected her. He first began working alongside MLB on labor matters in 1987 and came aboard full time in ’98. Ng joined the American League office in ’97. The next year she became, at 29, the youngest assistant GM in the sport when the Yankees hired her. In 2001, she went to work for the Dodgers as assistant GM and vice president before the league office made her its senior vice president of baseball operations in ’11.
Manfred’s relationship with Ng is almost as old as his relationship with baseball. So he hired Ng hoping to lose her. “One of things I think central baseball should be is a pool of people that get experience with us, they understand how we do business,” and then they become candidates for teams, he said. John Ricco, now a senior vice president and senior strategy officer for the Mets, spent 12 years in the commissioner’s office before New York hired him in 2004; Frank Coonelly, who was the president of the Pirates from ’07 to ’19, was first a labor lawyer alongside Manfred. League-to-team hiring has chilled in recent years. “I think maybe central baseball’s gotten a little more interesting,” Manfred joked. “Clubs have tried to recruit people and people haven’t wanted to leave.”
Ng wanted this job. She will work under Marlins CEO Derek Jeter and COO Caroline O’Connor. Ng will inherit a team that finished 31–29 and made a surprise playoff run, beating the Cubs, 2–0, in the Wild Card Series before falling to the Braves, 3–0, in the Division Series. GM jobs are, of course, generally only open because the previous GM has been fired. The new hire often faces a challenging situation. But Ng has spent 30 years in the sport, and she has seen a lot. Manfred believes she will be successful in Miami.
The commissioner hasn’t reached out yet. He wanted to wait for the news to become official, he said. But he will make sure to tell her that “I’m really proud of her,” he said. Ng’s achievement sends a message to girls and boys about who belongs in baseball. It also sends a message to people who do things the right way, Manfred said. “It is heartening for people who work in the game a long time,” he said. “Stay at it. Your opportunity comes.”
Manfred’s office—Ng’s old office—released a statement saying that her hire “sets a significant example for the millions of women and girls who love baseball and softball.” It also inspired at least one former NFL quarterback.