The Los Angeles Dodgers, the franchise that broke the color line in Major League Baseball in 1947, may be about to shatter another barrier, as they are interviewing Kim Ng for their open General Manager job.
"I've been out in the field with her, scouted. I've been in the back rooms with her, around the table. She's as qualified as any guy sitting in there around the table," said Ken Williams, GM of the World Series champion Chicago White Sox.
Ng, who turns 37 on Nov. 17, was the New York Yankees' assistant general manager for four years before becoming an assistant GM with the Dodgers in December 2001. Los Angeles GM Paul DePodesta was fired by owner Frank McCourt last month, and the team received permission to interview former Texas and Cleveland GM John Hart. Former Boston GM Theo Epstein might also be a possibility.
"The McCourts have asked the candidates basically not to discuss the whole situation," Ng said Tuesday at the annual general managers' meetings, where she is co-leading the Dodgers' delegation along with Roy Smith, the team's vice president of player development.
Only three women have risen to assistant GM. The first was Elaine Weddington Steward, hired by the Boston Red Sox in 1990. When Ng left the Yankees, she was replaced by Jean Afterman, a lawyer who had worked for agent Don Nomura.
Ng worked for the White Sox from 1990-96, when Dan Evans was the team's assistant GM, and Evans hired her when he became GM of the Dodgers. After she left the White Sox, Ng became director of waivers and player records for the American League for one year.
"Everybody here knows Kim, and they've known her for quite some time," said Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who hired her as his assistant in March 1998. "If she gets hired, whether it's for the Dodgers or anybody else, it's going to be because someone believes she has the ability to do that job.
"She's not going to get the job because she's a woman, and I don't think she's getting interviewed because she's a woman. I think she's getting interviewed because she deserves to have that opportunity because of that hard work she's put forth."
Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro believes that a youth movement going on in front offices around the game heralds more open-mindedness that can only increase the chances of Ng or any other female candidate.
“I don’t think there are any limits on who can be GM,” Shapiro said. “What baseball has shown in the last few years is you can’t put superficial limits on the GM’s job, whether it’s gender, race, culture or obviously, age. If you can embrace change in this game, including change in types of leadership, you can be effective.
“It takes strong desire from women, to know the odds going in. In my eyes, there are opportunities for anyone to contribute. The only ceiling yet to be broken by women is pure evaluation, in a scouting type of role.
“Kim certainly has paid her dues, has worked hard and is worthy of consideration.”
Afterman, who replaced Ng as Cashman’s assistant and would like to be a GM “maybe one day,” says “I’m with Kim” on this current candidacy.
“The timing is right with Kim,” Afterman said. “She’s put nine years in as assistant GM – she’s certainly more qualified than others.”
Afterman also commented on the team for which Ng currently works.
“For the Dodgers, the team that had Jackie Robinson break the color barrier, hiring Kim would complete the circle if they’re trying to reach back into history for the glory days,” she said.
Dodgers president Jamie McCourt is currently the highest-ranking female in the game.
The “good old boy” network that has permeated baseball is clearly on the wane. According to Afterman, Ng’s competence has helped even the playing field.
“This is still an old boys’ network, but I see the way assistant GM’s and GM’s react with her and she has the respect of everyone, from all sides, she’s not treated any differently,” Afterman said. “It may have taken her longer to build that up because this business is dominated by men. She’s proven she’s a person of her word and in this business, that’s worth a lot. Those hurdles, she’s overcome, plus she’s very knowledgeable about the game. This group of executives, they can sniff out any weakness and it’s always possible of being blocked out of a group if they’re convinced you don’t know or have what it takes.
“I don’t suppose anyone is going to get a GM job because they’re a woman – I support people getting jobs because they’re qualified and Kim’s highly qualified. If she doesn’t get the job, it won’t be because she’s not qualified or that she’s a woman or an Asian or that they want someone with more experience.”
Former Dodgers general manager Dan Evans said he would "applaud big-time" if Kim Ng becomes the Dodgers' next GM.
"I hired her as an intern when I was the director of baseball operations for the White Sox in 1990 and then hired her as my assistant general manager in Los Angeles," Evans said Monday. "I have great respect for her and whatever happens with her down the line, it will happen because she has earned the opportunity."
"I am from the mind-set that if someone is qualified to do the job, it doesn't really matter what their background is, or what their race or gender is," Cubs GM Jim Hendry said. "Either you can do it, or not. My dealings with Kim always have been good and she obviously has a very good reputation wherever she has worked."
Evans recalled the first time he met Ng.
"She was recommended by the athletic director at the University of Chicago and was just one of the multiple interviews we had for the internship," he said. "I had one interview with her and it was just outstanding.
"I had the advantage of being married to a television producer who was a little bit of a pioneer herself and that was in the back of my mind. It made me think that there shouldn't be any barriers."
Ng got the intern job and worked on arbitration research.
"We didn't win all of them," Evans said, "but we were prepared. Kim is one of the hardest-working people I have ever met. She continues to ask questions and never asks the same question a second time."
The big question is how the other Major League general managers would react.
"She has been in this game for 15 years, and anyone in the game now will have dealt with her and will have respect for her," Evans said. "It's not about friendships. You don't have to be friends with the people you work against, but you have to respect her.
"She works as hard, or harder, than anyone. Whether they are ready, that's their problem if they are not ready. I know I couldn't have asked for a better person to work for me at the White Sox or the Dodgers.
"I have two teenage daughters who consider Kim as their role model, and that's pretty cool."
Her qualifications can't be questioned. She went to a top-notch school, the University of Chicago. She has worked for the White Sox under Ron Schueler and Dan Evans, the Yankees under Brian Cashman and the Dodgers under Evans again in an era that's starting to look like the good old days. She has helped negotiate contracts with the likes of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
If stat-geek boys who didn't play the game or drive rental cars from minor league town to minor league town can grow up to be general managers, why can't girls do it?
Those who have worked with her say she's thorough and professional in everything she does. She might be undervalued publicly because she doesn't seek credit for things she has done, but that endears her even more to her associates.
And yet she'll face unprecedented challenges because she's an Asian woman. She already had to deal with a regrettable incident at the general managers meetings in 2003, when Met scout Bill Singer mocked her with an outlandish Chinese accent. (Singer was fired for his behavior.)
But this is a case where gender trumps ethnicity. Perhaps the biggest question is how she will be received in the clubhouse. One of the problems with Paul DePodesta was he wasn't at ease with the players. Will Ng be able to interact comfortably with them in that ultimate boys' room, when the players are in various stages of undress? Perhaps more important, would any potential employers have the confidence that she could?
I hope Ng can land her dream job … somewhere else.
She can do more for the Dodgers than they can do for her. Frank McCourt could be a modern-day Branch Rickey, letting Ng do for female executives what Jackie Robinson did for African American players. Ng has been around for four years, which would bring some much-needed stability to the team. She'd deflect attention from the rash of terminations.
It's such an opportunity for women, she would almost have to take it if offered. But she deserves better than this.
It's the wrong job for her to make history, because soon enough she'll be history, given the McCourts' penchant for finding scapegoats when things go wrong.
Then she wouldn't be known as the first female general manager. She would be just another ex-Dodger.
You never know what a team like that will do, and with the likes of Theo Epstein available as well, it's not like the Dodgers are limited in their options. Jon Weisman is reading the tea leaves and sees Ng as a backup choice right now. Even if she doesn't wind up knocking this door down, it seems to me she's certainly cleared the path to it. If today isn't her day, tomorrow surely will be, for her and for others.
Finally, I can't close this piece without noting that while Ng would be a trailblazer in baseball, she herself is walking in the footsteps of Oakland Raiders CEO Amy Trask.Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 14, 2005 to Baseball | TrackBack