Kim Ng is a trailblazer. Since 2011, she’s been Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of baseball operations, working under Joe Torre. When she was hired as the Yankees’ assistant general manager in 1998, she was the youngest in MLB history (at 29) to hold the position and one of only three women. She served the same role with the Dodgers for more than a decade. Before that, she was the youngest person and only woman to present salary arbitration cases. Many believe Ng (pronounced “Ang”) will become the first female general manager in a major sport.
In this Q&A with Excelle Sports, Ng talks about whether she wants to be a GM, the realities of being a woman in baseball, and whether the game will adopt an international draft.
EXCELLE: I read an interview in which you said, “I never thought about working in operations for a sports organization. I thought that marketing or sports information would be more likely areas.” Why did you feel that way and what changed when you graduated from the University of Chicago and got a job with the White Sox [as an intern and, eventually, the assistant director of baseball operations]?
NG: I didn’t necessarily even understand what “operations” meant at that time. At the time it was a pretty novel idea that someone who didn’t play baseball could actually have a hand in contributing to roster composition or negotiating contracts. That was part of my thinking. I was not informed enough as to what makes up the business of running a baseball team. That was a long time ago. Nowadays, there are sports management programs, and kids come out of college thinking they can be general managers. It’s a lot different than it used to be.
EXCELLE: Was there a moment when you shifted from playing sports to wanting to work in sports?
NG: I played softball in college. I played softball and tennis in high school. I knew I wasn’t going to be a pro tennis player in junior high school. In my senior year of college I figured out not only how much I loved sports but how I could perhaps transition that love into making a career for myself.
EXCELLE: Do you think being a woman or of Chinese heritage has hurt your career in any way?
NG: I don’t think being Chinese or Asian has had an effect. The first thing people notice about me when I walk into a room full of guys is that I’m a woman, not that I’m Asian. Being a woman is a novelty in this industry. There were some positives to that. It’s hard for me to say that it’s hurt. I think I’ve gotten a lot of notoriety for being a woman. I think it flips both ways. Some will say, “Kim would never have gotten to where she is if she’d been a guy,” and I’ve definitely heard the flip: “Yeah, Kim should be a GM and would have been five years ago had she been a guy.” But I think I raised eyebrows in a good way. I gave a lot of recognition to the idea that women could do this job.
EXCELLE: Do you want to be a GM? It sounds like you’re enjoying your position right now.
NG: Let me ask you a question: Why are you asking? If I was a guy would you be asking me that?
EXCELLE: Yes, because there’s a lot of talk about it and I didn’t know if people are speculating or if you’ve brought it up.
NG: People just ask. Why would I ever bring that up?
EXCELLE: Well, do you feel you’ve “made it” or do you have a next step in mind?
NG: You always want to think there’s a next step, but I don’t track my career like that. I know everyone wants to track careers like that. A lot of people want to track my career in particular like that. I can honestly say I don’t think any [one particular move] is the obvious next step. I just try and do my job really well. I’ve been recognized throughout my career for doing my job really well and I’ve been promoted to great positions. Coming here to the league office, people might have said it was an odd move, but I’ve made an odd move before, and it helped me get an assistant GM job. I love being in the game, and I am open to a lot of different things. I can’t say I’ve got this all mapped out. If I had done that, I would have driven myself crazy years ago. I take things as they come.
EXCELLE: A lot of kids I knew in high school and college who had immigrant parents said their parents preferred if they became a doctor or lawyer. There were certain expectations. Were your parents questioning your early career choices?
NG: I can’t name two weeks when I was in my early 20s that I didn’t get an article from my mother about getting my JD or my MBA. It’s a good thing I didn’t listen to my mother at the time—she laughs about that now. There were certain expectations about what I would do and all my siblings would do. In the end, I thought and still do think it’s about pursuing your passion. I was lucky enough my senior year of college to figure out I wanted to at least pursue this path, and was fortunate to get there.
EXCELLE: Is there anything within the game you’d like to influence? Perhaps instituting an international draft?
NG: It’s being discussed in the current negotiations—what our system of entry will be on the international side. There is a potential that we could still get a draft in the next agreement. I would have a lot of influence in terms of how that happens. I think that would be really interesting to be involved in. My last five years at MLB have been very illuminating in a lot of ways. The international world is something I might not have been up to my eyeballs in as an assistant GM, but I am now, and it’s been eye-opening and a lot of fun. An international draft is something I’d be eager and enthusiastic to work on.
EXCELLE: Is there anything else you’d like to see changed or improved?
NG: Diversity. Diversity amongst our hirings and trying to push that to the forefront. We need a multi-pronged approach throughout our system—front office, entry level, on field. It’s something that definitely interests me.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to Excelle Sports. He writes about baseball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn