From Chicago Tribune/Shannon Ryan
Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo
As a public policy major and softball player at the University of Chicago, Kim Ng wrote a thesis paper on Title IX, opening her eyes to the challenges and opportunities for women with careers in sports.
The daughter of a banker and a financial analyst in New York, she was interviewing for jobs in investment banking. She thought if she found a career in athletics, it would be for sports like tennis or golf — and probably in the marketing department.
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Then, she heard through the university in 1990 that the White Sox were looking for an intern.
“Baseball hadn’t crossed my mind. I had no examples,” Ng said recently in Rockford, where the town was celebrating the 75th anniversary of pro baseball’s Rockford Peaches and the accomplishments of women in sports. “For (the White Sox) to hire a woman as an intern, it was more unusual at that time. Unfortunately, it still is out of the ordinary.”
Ng, 49, currently serves as senior vice president for baseball operations in Major League Baseball, the highest ranking woman in the sport. She’s mentioned frequently in news articles as potentially becoming baseball’s first female general manager.
During one of her initial interviews with the White Sox, Ng was asked if she knew how to compute ERA. Of course, she did.
As she rose through the sport, Ng concedes “It did rattle me at times” when she was underestimated. But she said it never stopped her, and colleagues encouraged her.
“At no point did I think, ‘You can’t do this,’” she said. “I had great bosses along the way. Nobody ever said, ‘You can’t do this.’”
The White Sox hired her full time in 1991, and she was entrusted quickly with significant responsibilities. In 1995, at 26 and working as the team’s assistant director of baseball operations, she became the youngest person and first woman in baseball to present an arbitration case. She won the case involving pitcher Alex Fernandez.
“I forced her to do it,” White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. “Her first arbitration, she was very nervous and apprehensive. She preferred to assist. I told her I wanted her to do it. It was part of development.”
At first, she was a novelty in the office just for being a woman.
“Scouts and other people, coaches, it was new situation for them,” said Dan Fabian, White Sox senior director of baseball operations who worked with Ng for about three seasons. “It was 25 years ago; not many women were in positions like that. Some eyebrows were raised. There were a few times I had to say, ‘Cut it out. She knows what she’s doing.’ When people saw her do her work, they saw she was really qualified.”
Ng went on to work for the American League in 1997 before the Yankees hired her in 1998 as the youngest assistant general manager in MLB and one of only three women to hold such a position. Ten years later, she joined the Dodgers as vice president and assistant general manager.
Ng is part of a small circle of women who have broken into front office roles in MLB. Elaine Weddington Steward was the first assistant general manager in 1990, while Jean Afterman followed Ng with the Yankees in 2001. According to a Washington Post article, 113 women are in baseball operations but most are in administrative or medical and training positions.
In Chicago, three women have broken into male-dominated baseball fields. The Sox hired Grace Guerrero Zwit in 1982 as an assistant in the player development and scouting department. She works now as senior director for minor league operations. The Sox hired Emily Blady in January as a baseball operations analyst. The Cubs hired Ella Cahill as an amateur scouting assistant.
“I think it is (changing),” Reinsdorf said. “I see it with our interns. We’re getting more and more female interns each year.”
In her current role, Ng oversees international scouting and development, helping MLB plant roots and grow talent in countries throughout Latin America and in places like China, Mexico and India. After her appearance in Rockford, she was headed to Florida the following day before a trip the next week to Brazil.
Ng, who is Asian-American, ranked fifth in Forbes’ list of most powerful women in sports and No. 13 in the magazine’s list of most influential minorities in sports in 2015.
With the increased importance of analytics in baseball, Ng said some of the stigmas have been removed. She works with MLB’s Diversity Pipeline Program.
“Not playing is no longer an excuse,” she said. “Nothing should hold women back (from being hired). There’s more willingness to the idea at lower levels but we’re not there yet.”
Indeed, her eye for numbers — especially in the early 1990s when analytics were not in vogue — were a draw for the White Sox and earned her respect among colleagues.
“Our cubicles were right next to each other,” said Fabian, who was an assistant on the minor-league side while Ng worked on the major-league side. “She was extremely bright. That stood out. She could think through a scenario or a problem as well as anyone I’ve worked with. She came up with new things at a time when there was so much less information. Things with the internet were just coming into being. She developed a lot of systems we used.”
Ng has been interviewed for general managing openings, the first time was in 2005 with the Dodgers but also with the Mariners, Padres and Angels. .
“She has all the skills to be a general manager,” Reinsdorf said. “She has been in the game for 20 years. Somebody is going to crack that glass ceiling one of these days.”
Ng is looking forward to the day any woman is hired in the role.
“Whether it’s me or someone else is inconsequential,” Ng said. “As long as it’s someone.”