IF KIM NG was hired by the Miami Marlins As general manager last MLB off-season, she received ringing recommendations from Michelle Obama, Sharon Robinson, and Billie Jean King. In January she was invited by President Joe Biden to attend a prime-time television special as part of his inauguration ceremonies.
“The idea of affecting so many people is just extraordinary,” Ng said at a press conference in November where she was introduced as the first female GM for a team in the four major North American sports leagues. “I thought it was a big deal, but this is beyond my expectations – and I think beyond many people’s expectations.”
Marlin’s owner Bruce Sherman recognized Ng’s years in the game as the main reason behind their hiring.
“We’re really a fortunate organization to have someone with 30 years of experience – three major league teams and the past nine years with major league baseball,” said Sherman. “I can’t think of anyone more qualified for this position than Kim.”
But while Ng built those credentials over three decades, Ivy League baseball prodigies like Theo Epstein landed at GM in their twenties and thirties. Epstein was 28 when he was hired by the Boston Red Sox in 2002. Others, like Jon Daniels from the Texas Rangers and A.J. Bouncer the San Diego Padreswere 28 and 36 respectively. David Stearns was 30 when the Milwaukee Brewers hired him in 2015. Two years ago, Red Sox’s Chaim Bloom, 36, led the team.
52-year-old Ng may not be an Ivy Leaguer, but she graduated from the University of Chicago – ranked one of the top 10 universities in the country by US News and World Report – and made a name for herself in baseball while several other current GMs still do were in elementary school.
An ESPN data analysis from the baseball front offices in June 2020 focused on the dramatic rise Percentage of Ivy League graduates over the past two decades and US News & World Report’s graduate list of the Top 25 Schools That Have Departments of Baseball Operations. The proportion of minorities leading teams has also increased, if only slightly. But one number hadn’t changed: the proportion of women. Before Ng was hired, that percentage had been stable – zero.
In 2016, 106 women worked in baseball operations, nine in positions on the field, and twelve in director positions or higher, according to Major League Baseball. In 2020, the number of women in baseball operations rose to 225, with 17 women in director roles or higher. From 2016 to 2020, the number of jobs in baseball operations rose from 4,442 to 4,951, with 23.8% of the new jobs going to women.
“Kim’s hiring is progress,” said a National League baseball officer, “but there is still a lot to be done.”
Worn by Ng, MLB scored a C for gender setting in the University of Central Florida 2021 Racial and Gender Report Card, a grade that only seems palatable when compared to what the league received in 2020: an F.
MLB has worked to diversify in many ways, but even with the hiring of Ng, success with women has been limited. Women continue to report incidents ranging from harassment to being thrown out of rooms they belong in to the inability to find basic resources, including toilets. MLB notes, and the league says it is working to fix these issues, hiring Michele Meyer-Shipp as their first Chief People and Culture Officer last August as part of a larger effort to be more inclusive. But women in the game remain discouraged.
Women who work in baseball operations in major leagues, most of whom speak to ESPN on condition of anonymity to protect their future job prospects, say that Ng’s long climb to earn their position is beyond their reach . They observe how many of their male colleagues – who share tasks that range from introductory administrative tasks to saber-metric analysis to working with players on the pitch and negotiating contracts – are promoted faster.
“It’s so competitive to go into space in the first place and then move beyond entry-level jobs,” said an American League baseball operations analyst who is the only woman on her team in her department. “I’m still not sure how that happens.”
A female National League women’s front office analyst like Ng said, “I respect that they were ready to stand their ground and be there for 30 years to invest their time and move up the ranks, but that is pretty much the only way you see it. ” is baseball lifers. There just isn’t a lot of variety in the trails [women] take to be successful. “
Numerous men who ran front offices across the MLB declined to speak in or off the record for this story. When asked for an interview, Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem forwarded Meyer-Shipp through the public relations department.
Men may not talk, but women in baseball have stories to tell.
VIDEO ANALYSIS IS an important part of the game. During spring training three years ago, a league operations analyst who was then an intern set out to develop this skill. After she sat down to begin her session at the video station in the trainers’ locker room, she received a text message from her manager.
“Hey, the other intern will come and swap places with you,” read the text.
“Did I do something wrong?” she wrote back.
The explanation she received: One of the trainers felt uncomfortable with a woman who was sitting in his locker room – which also happened to be the only place where the video training was done. She was dragged out of the session and never got a chance to develop a skill that she was expecting for the entire season. Instead, the training went to a man.
“I was just like, ‘How the hell is this my problem?'” She said. “Nobody stood up for me. That was the hardest part. It was my first few weeks, and very quickly I didn’t feel as though I was being looked after by the people who had just hired me and asked me to travel across the country pull for you. “
The women who spoke to ESPN agreed with this sentiment, noting that it is typical for front offices to ignore the experience of being the only woman in the room. Many described a pressure they felt to stay calm for their first year in order to feel accepted. Others spoke of increased anxiety in meetings where their ideas are often scrutinized more closely than those of their male colleagues. Several women expressed the need to exert additional emotional energy when looking at their physical appearance in hopes of avoiding harassment at work.
“I was just like, ‘How the hell is that my problem?’ Nobody stood up for me. That was the hardest part. It was my first few weeks and very quickly I didn’t feel like I was being looked after by the people who had just hired me and asked me to move across the country You.”
Female league operations analyst for refusing video training because a male coach was uncomfortable in the locker room.
Major League Baseball has developed programs to transform the sport’s top-down attitude towards women in the workplace, and has launched employee networks such as the MLB Women Business Resource Group – an in-house networking group – and the Katy Feeney Leadership Symposium, a development program for women in baseball, in which more than 140 participants have participated since 2017.
The league has also launched diversity programs, including the Pipeline Program to identify and develop women and minorities for baseball operations and roles on the field. Women account for 46 out of 220 people hired to date on the Scholarship program that recruits women and minorities for roles in the Commissioner’s office, with women making up 45% of the candidate pool so far.
But even if MLB tries to create more avenues for women, a culture persists in which they feel unwelcome. A National League front office worker described the daily fear she feels just driving to set up her own team and feared – based on previous experiences at ballpark stadiums across the country – that security would not believe her works for the team. This has become a regular occurrence with security questioning her credentials or completely ignoring them and spending extra time verifying them, whether she is at her home team’s facility or visiting another.
“They checked me through security five times, more than any other man,” she said of an incident. “Some of my co-workers saw this and said, ‘Oh my god, we didn’t realize this actually happened.’
“You really have to be a tough cookie because you go through a lot of s —.” She said. “And it’s not just people who make you look bad, it’s sexual harassment, it’s people who touch you inappropriately, it’s ticket people who don’t give you your ticket, it gets thrown from your seat.”
The league operations analyst reported an incident where players sat in the back of their car during an airport pickup and immediately spoke about them in Spanish because she thought they couldn’t understand what they were saying.
“”[The players] start s — talking about me in the car, or talking about whether I’m hot or whatever, and I can understand it all, “she said.” Two hours after driving, I laugh at a joke they say in Spanish and in Spanish you recognize it and say, “Oh.” It’s that moment when men are talking to men in the room and someone says a joke and one of us is in the corner and says, “What?” and we’ll say, “Remember, we’re working here in the room,” and the tone changes instantly. It’s a difficult situation. “
The American League baseball operations analyst said her male counterparts often don’t know how to work with her, which she attributes, at least in part, to a lack of experience working with women.
“When you interact with coaches, they’re not sure how to treat you,” she said. “When you interact with male analysts in the front office, making that transition from intern to full-time in your treatment is really difficult, and it is across the board.”
“It gets louder when you’re the first or the only woman.”
“You have to be really tough because you go through a lot of s. And it’s not just people who make you look bad, it’s sexual harassment, it’s people who touch you inappropriately, it’s ticket people, who don’t give you your ticket, it’ll be thrown out of your seat. ”
Front office employee of the National League
Bianca Smith was hired by the Red Sox as a minor league coach in February, becoming the first black woman to hold the job in professional baseball. Smith says she regularly heard dismissive comments about her endeavors when she began her coaching career on the field at Case Western Reserve University. Often times, when women make progress in the field, they are skeptical about their ability to perform in a sport that they have not played at a professional level.
“We had a high school coach who asked what I did for the team. I tell people I did everything I did but actually recruit and that’s because I was going to work over the summer,” said Smith, a Dartmouth graduate aiming for a big league manager. “I even told them I had a law and business degree and his first answer was, ‘Great, that means I can hire you to make sandwiches when you graduate,’ and I didn’t once an immediate answer because I was shocked it. “
Women who worked both in and out of the field pointed to the lack of a specific support system, which was compounded by the lack of female colleagues. Women in entry level baseball positions often receive feedback from their male counterparts to help them be more confident and assertive. However, they are subsequently given conflicting advice to keep calm and be grateful for their positions in a competitive industry, a consistent topic among the women who spoke to ESPN for the story.
“I’m constantly on the verge of those two things and can’t find a middle ground because I don’t think there is one,” said another National League front office analyst. “I feel like I’m screaming against a wall during these conversations, and that’s really, really sad because at the end of the day I’m just trying to do my job.”
IT’S A SAVIOR Hunting that nobody wants to continue.
Go through the locker room where players may change. Pass the potted plant in the hallway. Turn left into another hallway. Find the fourth door. Enter a curtained corridor. And there, almost hidden in the back corner by the cupboards: the women’s toilet.
Inconvenient trips to the bathroom – often requiring walks through coaches rooms, locker rooms, and gyms to gain access to facilities – are a simple, but no less important, and illustrative subject, and another common theme among women in baseball. An American League front office analyst said her team didn’t have any women’s bathrooms on the same floor as the baseball operations office – despite the fact that she worked in a stadium built in the 2000s.
For the National League baseball operations analyst, finding the bathroom at her team’s spring training facility – where you can’t miss the men’s room – meant getting a mental roadmap from one of her only coworkers.
“The hallway that the bathroom was in, I would never have gone there. There’s nothing there. It’s literally hidden in the back corner. There are no markings or anything … If I hadn’t had a colleague to do that would have.” I was in spring training earlier this year and would only have wandered around for so long, who knows how long. ”
National League Baseball Operations analyst who needs detailed instructions to locate the women’s bathroom.
“If all of my co-workers are men, I have to text someone who’s not here to find out where I’m going because none of them can even help me, ‘” she said. “If I hadn’t had a colleague who had already been in spring training this year, I would have just wandered around, who knows how long.”
Even with the instructions, it wasn’t easy.
“I literally made sure I could see visual touchpoints as I walked through because I would never have gone there in the hallway where the bathroom was,” she said. “There’s nothing there. It’s literally hidden in the back corner. There are no markings or anything.”
Meyer-Shipp – formerly chief diversity officer of accounting firm KPMG – said the league is aware of issues related to facilities for women and is discussing with teams to resolve them. Meyer-Shipp said she embarked on a 120-day listening tour of Major League Baseball last year to get feedback on diversity and gather feedback on improving work culture.
“We have to ask our employees for their opinion on how they experience the organization,” said Meyer-Shipp. “We need to look at this feedback, broken down by demographics, to understand it. Do our women experience our culture in ways that are different from men’s, and if so, how? What are our challenges?
“I got engaged to women across the league. I got engaged to people of color across the league to start conversations. ‘What do you need? What are the gaps? Tell us what you think will work.’ My message to our leaders across the league is that not only is it good enough to get people in the door, but what are you going to do to maintain, grow and nurture that talent? “
“They told me straight out: ‘If we hadn’t worked with Kim [Ng]We would have been tougher on you or more curious about you and why you are here, but because we worked with Kim we know you can do this job. I was grateful to her. She took all the weight off our shoulders. ”
Front office employee of the National League
“Talk about it, talk about it, call others when they see someone doing something or something unpleasant,” said Meyer-Shipp. “You have to strategize and put it into action. Be deliberate, proactive, and thoughtful in your recruiting efforts. You have to do overarching things because when people see them from above, it starts to cascade.”
The effects of Ng’s success weren’t felt until she won the top job with the Marlins. The National League front office agent recalled that when she started in the industry, several employees told her that her experience with Ng had an impact on how they worked with her.
“They told me directly, ‘If we hadn’t worked with Kim we would have been tougher on you or more curious about you and why you are here, but because we worked with Kim we know you can do this job’, she said. “I was grateful to her. She took all the weight off our shoulders.”
Ng is all too aware.
“When Derek told me I got the job, a 10,000 pound weight was lifted off that shoulder. About half an hour later I realized it had just been transferred to that shoulder,” Ng said in November. “I feel quite a bit of responsibility; I’ve had my entire career … you carry the torch for so many.”