Kim Ng gives me hope. She has pioneered a path for countless women who want to work in baseball. Her achievement deserves to be celebrated, but not by the gatekeepers who stood in her way.
That Ng wasn’t hired as a GM until the year 2020 is a disgrace. Team owners, Rob Manfred and the Commissioner’s Office should be embarrassed that it took so long for Ng to secure a job as general manager. Time and time again, Ng interviewed for GM openings. Every single time, MLB team owners chose to hire a less-qualified white man, rather than Ng.
Ng first interviewed for a general manager position with the Dodgers in 2005; Los Angeles went with Ned Colletti instead. In 2008, she interviewed for the Mariners general manager role. Instead of jumping at the chance to bring Ng on board, the Mariners decided to hire Jack Zduriencik, even though Zduriencik had lied extensively to the team about his advanced sabermetrics knowledge, which his colleagues would later find out he decidedly lacked. After an 85-77 finish in 2009, the Mariners under Zduriencik slumped to 61-101 in 2010, 67-95 in 2011, 75-87 in 2012, and 71-91 in 2013.
The 2009 MLB season marked Ng’s 18th year in professional baseball and her tenth as an assistant general manager. That fall, she interviewed for the Padres’ GM job after the team had fired Kevin Towers from the post. That job eventually went to Jed Hoyer, a former D-III college baseball player who had been working in baseball for six or seven years.
Since 2009, Ng interviewed for GM roles with the Angels, Giants, the Padres (again), the Mets and the Orioles. Her impressive track record and resume spoke for themselves and still, no major league team wanted to benefit from her intelligence and years of experience.
Ng worked in baseball for 30 years before being hired as a GM. That is a long time, and highly unusual for respected people within the game who aspire to run a team. How much longer than her peers did Ng have to work in MLB before becoming a general manager?
To put the length of time Ng had to grind in perspective, current general managers in MLB on average spent 12.7 years working in the major leagues before being hired as a general manager. The median length of time it took current GMs to reach that rank is 12.5 years. After Ng, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, a former minor league player who began working as a full-time scout in 1986, spent the next-longest amount of time working his way up to a GM position. The Nationals hired Rizzo as general manager in 2009, twenty-three years after he began scouting talent for the White Sox.
Some people progress in their careers faster than others. Not all career paths are neat and linear. To understand if the amount of time it took Ng to secure a GM job in MLB is statistically significant, I decided to calculate the standard deviation for the length of time current MLB general managers spent in lower-level baseball operations roles before being hired as a GM.
The career data I used is from Baseball-Reference, MLB.com staff bios and LinkedIn.com. Note that my calculations exclude GM information from the Phillies, Mets and Dodgers, as those front office positions are currently vacant.
Interviewing unsuccessfully for half a dozen GM jobs over a period of 15 years is unusual, but does the amount of time Ng had to spend working her way up to a GM position fall outside the bounds of what could be considered “normal”?
Not only is Ng’s 30-year path to becoming a general manager longer than average; the number of years she had to work before being hired by an MLB team falls in the range of what would be considered unusually long from a statistical perspective. Ng’s “grind-time” of 30 years is slightly more than three standard deviations removed from the average of the 27 other general managers currently employed in MLB.
Kim Ng’s hiring is hugely significant to me and all other women who work in baseball. But who comes next? Assistant General Manager, Director of Scouting and Director of Baseball Operations jobs are the most common roles to hold before being hired as the GM of an MLB team. At present, MLB employs few women in these positions.
As Ng demonstrates, it is exceedingly difficult for women to convince team owners that they deserve and will excel as general managers. The landscape must change. The Commissioner needs to prioritize women’s career development and convince team owners to get on board. The Yankees Captain can’t do it on his own.