Jennifer Wolf, the Life Skills Coordinator for the Cleveland Indians, was fixing up some things around her home on Friday morning. Suddenly, her “Women In Baseball” group chat—which includes 80 women working inside the game—started buzzing. News had broken that Kim Ng, a longtime baseball front office executive, was finally hired to run a team: the Miami Marlins made her the first woman team general manager in the history of a major North American men’s sports league.
She felt elation, tinged with some frustration.
“I was so incredibly excited and proud of Kim,” says Wolf, who worked under Ng (pronounced “ANG”) in the MLB front office in the early 2010s. “But then I also kind of thought, it’s about time.” Wolf laughs, a clear acknowledgment of both her happiness about the hire, and the ridiculous nature of the wait. “This is so well deserved,” she says. “But it should have happened years ago.”
Ng, who will also become baseball’s first first Asian-American general manager, has spent three decades working in the game: in 1998, the New York Yankees made her the youngest assistant general manager in baseball, when they hired her at 29: from 2002-2011, she was vice president and assistant general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Recently, she’s worked in the MLB commissioner’s office as senior vice president of baseball operations.
At least seven times, she’s interviewed for general manager’s jobs. At least seven times, teams have passed over her. “You know going into it, it’s going to take longer for women to get to where men get to,” says Wolf. “It’s kind of an acknowledgment that our road is a little harder regardless.”
Still, for women working in baseball, Ng’s hire hit home. “It’s an iconic moment, it’s a historic moment. For me it’s just the beginning,” says Alexandria Rigoli, manager of pro scouting for the Marlins. “It should be celebrated. I’m excited to see what we can do, as women in baseball and as the Miami Marlins.”
“I want to be a baseball lifer,” says Wolf. “If that means I’m a GM, if that means I’m a farm director, if that means I’m a special assistant, I love the game and I never want to leave. But seeing Kim in this position, just makes it that much more possible. I always knew it would be possible, for her, for me, for other women. But representation matters. I don’t think it’s the only thing. But it is important. It’s important for people like me to have female bosses and role models and mentors. But it’s also important for girls who are growing up now, and boys growing up now, to see that being a person in a leadership role is not limited to white men.”
Ng’s hiring was cheered by women working across sports. “I looked at her years of experience, I thought 30 years, I think she’s more than earned it,” says Kelly Krauskopf, who became the NBA’s first female assistant general manager—for the Indiana Pacers—in 2018. “The double standard is, sometimes you see guys that work four or five years, and oh, they seem really smart, so they must be able to do this job. And then you see a woman, she’s been doing the same thing for twice as long, and still has to prove herself. That’s the hard part. Maybe someday you won’t feel that ‘prove it’ mentality, or that questioning around your qualifications. That’s gone. You get the chance just like your male colleagues.”
Krauskopf says it’s natural to think that Ng’s hiring in baseball could make an NBA team more likely to give her a chance at the top spot. She knows how much representation matters; Krauskopf has been stopped by female Pacers fans in the bowels of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, who let them know that her success is breaking barriers. Young girls from all over the country sent her congratulatory notes. A family from the Dallas area reached out to Krauskopf and asked if they can bring their seventh grade daughter to Indianapolis to pick her brain about sports management: Krauskopf obliged and they chatted down on the court before a game.
According to Krauskopf, male colleagues throughout the NBA have greeted her warmly: before joining the Pacers, she ran the Indiana Fever, of the WNBA, for nearly two decades. Still, the adjustment to the NBA could be jarring. Before the 2019 draft, she entered a Phoenix gym to scout prospects. “I remember walking it, and it was a gym full of, you know, hundreds of guys,” says Krauskopf. “The door opens and I walk through the door and I’ll never forget, for a slow motion moment, I felt like all these eyes were on me and I’d never felt my gender more than I felt in that moment. Wow, I really am the only woman. There’s not a female for miles here. And I had never felt that way before.”
While working in baseball, Wolf has faced resistance. She recalls not being included in meetings, not being given opportunities for promotions and feeling relegated to administrative tasks. Wolf hopes that Ng’s ascension and other signs of progress, like the San Francisco Giants hiring Alyssa Nakken as a coach, and the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs hiring women as hitting coaches, can help eradicate such thinking. “It was a big year for women in the game,” says Wolf. “And then we now have a woman in the White House as VP. And so I think it’s just, with all the negatives that have happened this year, and struggling through the pandemic, it’s a really awesome to see the bright spots. And it gives me hope for 2021 and beyond. These women can’t be the only ones. We’ve gotta make sure that this isn’t just a one off.”