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Baseball’s top woman knows how to pitch out of tough situations

Kim Ng

Kim Ng

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ON DECK
WITh KIM NG

◆ 11:30 a.m. Sunday

◆ Northwestern University School of Law, Thorne Auditorium, 375 E. Chicago

◆ Tickets, $10

◆ (312) 494-9509;
chicagohumanities.org

Updated: January 3, 2013 3:53PM



Like the lift from a long home run, the career of Kim Ng has followed a trajectory of opportunity.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which required gender equality for girls and boys in every educational program that receives federal funding. It was a landmark ruling for women’s athletics.

And now the sky is the limit.

Ng (pronounced anj) is the senior vice president for baseball operations with Major League Baseball and has advanced further in the upper ranks of baseball management than any woman in history.

Now 43, Ng was 4 years old when Indiana senator Birch Bayh introduced Title IX in Congress. She ended up writing her senior thesis at University of Chicago on the ruling.

“That paper gave me a better awareness of where I was and the great opportunities I had been afforded,” Ng said.

Ng will speak about the business of America’s favorite pastime and more at 11:30 a.m. Sunday at Thorne Auditorium at the Northwestern University School of Law, 375 E. Chicago, as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival. ($10 general admission, chicagohumanities.org).

Chicago is a deep part of Ng’s culture. She earned a degree in public policy from the University of Chicago, where she also played third base and second base for the school softball team. She began her baseball journey with an internship with the White Sox and spent six years as an analyst with the White Sox.

During her White Sox tenure, she learned the nuance of the game. “I manned the radar gun, inputted scouting reports,” Ng recalled. “I learned about waivers and budgets. Trend analysis, a lot of things you see on TV today in terms of pitch counts. Chicago was a great experience.”

Ng arrived on Major League Baseball’s radar when she became the youngest person, and the first woman, to present a salary arbitration case in the majors. She represented the White Sox in a 1995 case against pitcher Alex Fernandez. She was 26 years old.

Ng won.

“It was my first case,” Ng said last week from Phoenix, where she was watching MLB’s Arizona Fall League. “Clubs don’t typically represent themselves in arbitration. They usually hire a lawyer. At the time the White Sox were the only club that did arbitration themselves. It was a great experience. Scott Boras was the agent. Scott is very good at what he does. Yeah, I was nervous. But after a few minutes it wears off. Then you get back to basics and let your knowledge take over.”

Ng has been an assistant general manager with the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. In her 12 seasons as an assistant general manager, she reached the postseason eight times and has three world championship rings.

She said she still would like to be general manager for a major league team. Ng has been a finalist for general manager positions with the Dodgers, Seattle and San Diego, where she lost out to current Cubs GM Jed Hoyer.

Ng is used to breaking new ground, and much of that dates back to that paper on Title IX.

“It was a fascinating paper for me because the University of Chicago has history in moving that forward,” she said. “Mary Jean Mulvaney was our athletic director and obviously was one of the only women athletic directors at the time.” University of Chicago was also one of the first schools to allow female students to wear pants on campus.

“When I wrote the paper, Iowa was playing basketball with three girls on offense [forwards] and three girls on defense [guards], and on defense the players couldn’t run past a certain line because people were afraid girls would strain themselves.” Ng chuckled.

By 1985 several girls sued the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union to play five-on-five so they could compete for college scholarships. The six-on-six game was phased out in 1993 in Iowa.

“That was shocking to me,” Ng said. “They were doing that until the 1990s, which is not that long ago.”

Mulvaney, who is 85 years old and retired in Lincoln, Neb., has kept tabs on Ng. “She has had a remarkable career,” Mulvaney said. “Her career shows where woman’s sports have come from and where we are now. When we played other schools, [coach] Pat Kirby drove one van and I drove the other. We ate at McDonald’s all the time. I haven’t been to a McDonald’s since I retired [in 1990]. And I haven’t had one since I retired.”

Ng, a Yankees fan, cites former White Sox assistant general manager Dan Evans, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman and current boss Joe Torre (executive vice president of baseball operations for MLB) as mentors. “I’ve taken a little of something from everybody I’ve worked for and different things from people I’ve worked with,” she explained. “But Joe is so grounded. He has such a great way of simplifying what we think are complex issues. He gets back to basics when he says something. ”

Ng has the reputation of being a good negotiator.

“When people say you’re a good negotiator, what comes to mind is that you’ve always won the negotiation,” she said. “I’m not sure that’s the best perception because no one wants to negotiate with you anymore. I’d rather be seen as smart and fair. ...

“When you’re younger you want to color it in black and white, and it is really not that way. A lot of it is experience, temperament and being patient. Knowing what your options are and your leverage points. And to hear what people are saying — as opposed to thinking you know what people are saying.”

For more on Kim Ng’s favorite sports book, her take on international
baseball and my first visit to the Arizona Fall League, visit my blog at
blogs.suntimes.com/hoekstra.



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