Column: Baseball rejoices when Marlins hire Kim Ng as MLB’s first female general manager
Finally, something good happened to a person who isn’t a jerk.
Baseball rejoiced Friday when the Marlins made the 51-year-old Ng the first female general manager in a major North American sports league.
The celebrations were more than about the glass ceiling she broke, however.
Ng’s appointment marked the rare instance in which a decent person caught a break in baseball’s shark-infested waters.
“People are genuinely happy for her,” said Dan Evans, the former general manager who recruited Ng (pronounced “Ang”) to the Dodgers’ front office.
Ng spent nearly a decade with the Dodgers as an assistant general manager before she followed Joe Torre to work in the league office in 2011.
What was particularly striking about her then was how her subordinates described her in private conversations.
She didn’t rule by fear, like some other high-ranking executives.
She was smart. She was approachable. She was funny. People who worked under her didn’t want to disappoint her because they liked her.
Josh Rawitch, a senior vice president with the Arizona Diamondbacks, worked in the Dodgers public relations department when Ng was in their front office.
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Rawitch’s favorite memory of her is from an October night in 2008, when the Manny Ramirez-powered Dodgers completed a three-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs to win their first postseason series in two decades. A group of 75 to 100 front-office employees gathered at a downtown bar.
“Mostly lower-level staff,” Rawitch said. “She was the highest-ranking person there.”
Ng stood on the bar and riled up the crowd, prompting the employees to spray alcohol on each other.
“She recognized how hard people worked but how they didn’t get to be in the clubhouse,” Rawitch said.
Nick English, who is now a player agent, started working in the Dodgers’ baseball operations department when he was a law student at USC.
In his six seasons with the team, English reported to Ng, whom he recalled being fluent in analytics before they became omnipresent in the game. What he was more impressed by was how she delegated responsibilities to young staffers and incorporated their work into her decision-making process.
“She listened to everyone, but made sure the information was solid before she did anything,” English said. “She was a very deliberate thinker.”
Ng tried two arbitration cases with the Dodgers and won both, including a high-profile hearing against All-Star closer Eric Gagne in 2004.
“She’s often the smartest person in the room and you wouldn’t know it by how she carries herself,” Rawitch said.
Ng was also in charge of minor league free agents, an area in which she excelled in part because of her relationships with agents.
“She was a peacemaker in a lot of ways,” English said.
English and Rawitch said they never saw Ng lose her temper, regardless of what was happening around her. And there was plenty that went on, from working under different general managers to fluctuations in the team’s performance to the general chaos of the McCourt ownership.
Evans, who gave Ng an entry-level position with the Chicago White Sox and convinced her to join him with the Dodgers, was fired before the 2004 season.
Evans admitted feeling conflicted as the team he built closed in on a division championship. He said he was watching his daughter play soccer when Steve Finley launched a walk-off grand slam to win the National League West. About 10 minutes after Finley circled the bases, Evans’ cellphone rang.
On the other line was Ng, who passed around her phone to a number of players. One by one, they thanked him and reminded him of his role in their triumph.
Blake Treinen partially regained his stellar form with the Dodgers last season. Now a free agent, he’s about to find out if he’s in the club’s future.
“It was an amazing call,” Evans said. “It really gave me some closure.”
Evans was one of Ng’s many former co-workers beaming Friday. Over the years, they watched as she was interviewed for one GM opening, then another. They watched her maintain her grace even after she was passed over despite her qualifications.
Evans said the text messages and phone calls exchanged by people in the industry reflected how she has treated others over her career.
“If not, you don’t get that outpouring of love,” he said.
In the coming weeks, Evans figures everyone who knows Ng will come to understand the magnitude of something that feels so personal at the moment. Their friend made history.
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