BY J.A. SCHWARTZ
The New York Yankees are arguably the most storied franchise in all of sports. They have won 27 World Series championships, more than twice as many as any of their competitors. They have been led, at various points in their storied history, by some of the most iconic players the league has ever seen. Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, and Mariano Rivera, all Hall of Famers, have won multiple championships as Yankees.
Arguably the best player of all time, Babe Ruth, eclipsed every batting record on the books as a Yankee slugger, and led the team to several championships in the pre-integration period of baseball. However, one lifelong Yankee star just recently made a decision that will resonate through the fabric of competitive American sports for all eternity, something that none of his Hall of Fame elected fellow Yankee legends can boast of having accomplished. In true trailblazing fashion, Derek Jeter made history not as a New York Yankee shortstop, but as the CEO of the Miami Marlins.
This past week, Jeter hired Kim Ng to be the new General Manager of the Miami Marlins, and in so doing, helped implode the glass ceiling against which women in professional sports have banged their heads for decades.
Ng, 51, has worked in baseball most of her adult life. She was born in Indianapolis but was raised in Queens, Long Island and New Jersey. She has a degree in Public Policy from the University of Chicago. She began her baseball odyssey as an intern for the Chicago White Sox at age 21, but her talents caught the eye of Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, who made her the youngest Assistant General Manager in baseball history in 1998. She helped mold a Yankee dynasty that would win three consecutive World Series titles from 1998-2000, the last team to repeat as champions, and one of only two squads in the past 50 years to win three straight titles, joining the 1972-1974 Oakland A’s.
The Dodgers hired her away from New York in 2001 as Vice President and Assistant General Manager, a job she held until 2011, having been passed over for the vacant Dodgers GM role that went to industry veteran Ned Coletti. She left the Dodgers in 2011 to join Major League Baseball as its Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations, a job she held until being hired by Jeter and the Marlins last week. Ng had previously interviewed for at least six different GM jobs around baseball, including the Orioles, Padres, Giants, Angels, Mariners and Dodgers, but was never able to beat out her male competitors. Until last week, that is, when Derek Jeter hired her.
Ng is the first woman to be named General Manager of a men’s American professional sports franchise. She is also a minority (Asian American), which makes her hire that much more impactful in terms of how it may shape the hiring process for such jobs going forward. There is literally no candidate who should feel they don’t have a chance to ascend to a similar position, regardless of their gender or race. In a period in our nation’s history where those core values have been challenged, and systemic racism has reared its ugly head in many forms, leave it to baseball to be on the leading edge of cultural change.
Baseball was the first American sport to break the color barrier when Jackie Robinson suited up for Branch Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Other professional sports leagues would soon follow suit, but it took a baseball visionary to bring the concept to the public, many of whom were virulently against the idea.
Nearly 75 years later, all American professional sports have been integrated, and players from nearly every corner of the globe compete at the highest levels based on the merit of their talents rather than the color of their skin or country of origin. This isn’t to suggest that systemic racial or ethnic bias has been eliminated from the corridors of power in the sports world. Sadly, evidence of such antiquated thinking festers in all sports, but it is far less prevalent than it had been just a century ago.
When people like Kim Ng are hired to positions of ultimate accountability, and are allowed to make decisions that shape franchises worth billions of dollars, people all around the world sit up and take notice. Young women of all races and countries of origin may just become Marlins partisans, and some of those fans may end up pursuing a career in baseball, seeing the example set by their hero, Kim Ng.
Ng’s influence will undoubtedly extend well beyond the narrow halls of sports ownership and power, and will provide a role model template for enterprising female visionaries around the world. Sports may not carry the historical significance or global impact that careers in politics or human rights law might, but the sheer visibility of the sports industry due to the immense popularity of the games allows Ng a platform to shine that few woman have enjoyed.
In just the past dozen years, America has seen its first black president, and now has a black woman of African and Asian heritage as its vice-president elect. When names like Barack Obama and Kamala Harris are listed in the annals of history as the first of their kind, they should be celebrated for their achievements, and for being beacons of hope for millions of people all over the world of similar heritage.
Kim Ng may not have the same global influence as President Obama and Vice President-Elect Harris do, but just as many eyes and hearts will follow her every move, and they will very likely come away impressed by the courage of her vision and the boldness of her thinking.