Trailblazer Kim Ng is leading the Marlins’ MLB playoff charge | Miami Marlins

The Miami Marlins are six games into an eight-game losing streak when Kim Ng, the club’s general manager, speaks with Guardian. Despite the slump, Ng doesn’t place too much focus on the team’s recent play ahead of Major League Baseball’s 1 August trade deadline.

“It’s hard to take six games out of 162 and make that the ‘flag’ of your season,” she says. “I choose not to deal with that in an emotional way. At the end of the day, your record is your record – whether we got those losses at the beginning or whether we got them now – I think you shouldn’t let it feed into how you treat the trading deadline.”

The numbers support Ng’s argument. Even when taking that losing streak into account, the Marlins are still on track to post their first winning full season since 2009 (they reached the playoffs in the Covid-shortened 2020 campaign) and, with just under 60 games to go, a playoff spot remains within reach.

Perennial success would be a welcome development for the Marlins – the team enjoys a relationship with winning that is uncommon in MLB. With just three postseason appearances ever, the Marlins have qualified for fewer playoffs than any other team in MLB history, although they only entered the majors in 1993. When they have made the playoffs, however, the team has capitalized on the opportunity better than many others, winning two World Series titles in 1997 and 2003 (despite never having finished in first place). Indeed, the Marlins have more championships than nine other franchises, many with far longer histories.

The Marlins’ decision to hire Ng as the team’s GM after the 2020 season was accompanied by more media attention than the average front-office move. This is unsurprising, given the history-making nature of Ng’s appointment – she is the first (and, thus far, only) woman to serve as GM in any of the US’s ‘Big Four’ professional leagues.

For her part, Ng prefers to place her achievement within a wider history of women working within sports’ front offices.

“There are women who have been at this for a long time,” she says. “Women have played a meaningful role in baseball [and] professional sports – they just haven’t necessarily gotten recognised over the years.”

Ng’s determination to highlight the many other women carving out careers in professional baseball is admirable, but her appointment as the Marlins’ GM is a unique milestone on a more publicly visible scale. The broader public seems to agree – in addition to the widespread media coverage her hiring initially received, Ng received congratulatory messages from figures such as Michelle Obama and Billie Jean King. “I was just incredibly overwhelmed at that time,” she remembers. “[Those messages] stand for quite a lot.”

Although Ng has experienced a surge in general fame since joining the Marlins, she was already well-known within baseball circles – she has been a regular presence in MLB front offices for decades. In fact, she was an assistant GM on the New York Yankees teams that won three consecutive championships at the turn of the millennium. Memories of that time seem to leave Ng, who grew up in New York as a Yankees fan, almost at a loss for words.

“My years with the Yankees – they’re some of the best times that I’ve had in my career. To be around greatness every single day … I’m not sure many people get that [experience] in their lives … [Those teams] really humanized the word ‘team,’ I guess is how I would put it.”

Despite her early success – Ng was in her late 20 when she was promoted to the assistant GM role with the Yankees – it would be many years before any team would offer her a full-on GM role. Not that they she wasn’t considered – Ng interviewed for multiple GM vacancies over a span of about 15 years but, time and again, was not offered the position. She’s honest about the cumulative toll those rejections had on her over the years.

“Well, it’s hard to keep your enthusiasm up,” Ng says. “You sulk for a few days … You probably only get one or two [interviews] a year, so I had enough time to lick my wounds,” she adds with a laugh.

“There are only 30 of these jobs in the world and… based on my personality, I was never going to view my career as a ‘failure’ if I didn’t make it [to the GM level].”

When she wasn’t interviewing for GM vacancies, Ng continued working in roles that would make her CV increasingly difficult to overlook, including several years as MLB’s senior vice-president for baseball operations, where she was the “highest-ranking female executive in baseball”.

Eventually, when the Marlins were looking for a new GM, a face from her professional past most likely played a role in Ng’s hiring. At that time, Yankees legend Derek Jeter was the CEO (and a part-owner) of the Marlins.

“Derek is somebody that I’ve known for a long time,” Ng says. “Yeah, I think that definitely played a hand in me having the job that I do.”

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After multiple seasons as GM, the team increasingly reflects Ng’s vision for the franchise – although, with what seems to be characteristic humility, she offloads much of the praise to other decision-makers in the organization.

“I take a lot of pride [in the team’s success this season]. I will say, in terms of the way we make decisions here, it’s really a group effort. There’s a lot of collaboration that goes on behind the scenes that the fans don’t normally see. I have a very good group here. Their experiences are diverse, their backgrounds are diverse. We come from a multitude of other organizations. And so, [I] really feel that has fed a lot of our good decisions.”

These decisions include concrete, practical approaches to improving the team’s roster.

“We really tried to focus on our bullpen … we added three quality arms,” she says, referring to off-season acquisitions AJ Puk, Matt Barnes, and JT Chargois. In addition to beefing up their bullpen, the Marlins sought to add a specific type of hitter to their offense.

“Importantly, we focused on acquiring pure hitters,” Ng says, juxtaposing the Marlins’ small-ball philosophy with the “home run or die” mindset popular in much of baseball. “We felt that we would pivot from that [mentality],” instead focusing on “being able to score runs in a number of different ways.”

Among the purest hitting of those offseason additions is second-baseman Luis Arráez, the reigning American League batting champion and the player leading MLB in batting average so far this season (Arráez is also closer to hitting baseball’s hallowed .400 batting average than anybody has been in many years). Ng seems to appreciate Arráez’s approach to the game as much as his prowess at the plate.

“He has been such a refreshing, tremendous add for our group,” she says. “He plays with an incredible amount of energy and passion. You see it on the field, you see it off the field – I think his personality has been contagious for our group.”

In addition to her team’s improvement on the field, Ng does recognize the benefits her role as GM has had on other sports organizations’ views toward hiring women.

“It’s opened [teams’] eyes and really made them focus on their pipelines,” she says. “[Teams are] increasing the pool of women in more entry-level positions … We’ve seen more women coaches at the minor league level than ever before, women who are scouts, women on our medical staffs – we’re starting to really multiply.”

No matter what the outcome of the Marlins’ season, such cultural changes ensure that Ng’s appointment has been a win for the sport as a whole.