What Is Now Left to Be Imagined

On Friday, the Marlins announced that Kim Ng would be assuming the role of general manager. It was a historic move for a number of reasons: She’s the first woman and first Asian-American to be hired as a GM in the major leagues, and is indeed the first woman in any major American men’s pro sport to hold that role. It was also a move that was long foretold, as many pointed out, linking to various blog posts and lists of years and decades past that included Ng’s name as one to watch in the world of high-ranking baseball executives. She’s been at least an assistant GM for as long as I’ve been alive. “When I got into this business,” her statement posted to the Marlins’ social media read, “it seemed unlikely that a woman would lead a major-league team, but I am dogged in the pursuit of my goals.”

It was a celebratory day for many women in baseball, a sign of how far they have come and how far they could still go, and a testament to Ng’s individual drive and ability, which, given her history, is undeniable. It was also a celebratory day for Asian-Americans in baseball. What once seemed unlikely, and before that unimaginable, is now real, tangible, and true — not only for Ng individually, not only for the other people who have blazed trails in this industry, and not only for all the historically underrepresented people she might inspire to pursue careers in the game, but also for literally everyone, apparently, in the entire sport. All those heavy-hitters and decision-makers who for the decades upon decades prior to this day were fine with maintaining the status quo — this moment was, somehow, their achievement to celebrate as well.

When you’re a kid, you can dream of being all kinds of ridiculous, incredible things. The first person to create a cat-to-human translation system. The first person to walk on Mars. A kajillionaire, a world-peace creator, an undersea explorer — all at the same time, all existing within the same realm of possibility. You get older, of course, and with your increasing ability to understand the world around you, to grasp what is expected of someone like you, the dreams get scaled and hedged accordingly. You absorb information and adjust your ideas of what is possible. Kajillionaire becomes maybe a full-time job and your debt paid off by the time you’re 50. World-peace creator becomes maybe you survive another year of being exploited by your racist boss. The moon becomes a tiny room in a shared house for $900 a month. It’s good, after all, to have goals that are actually possible to reach. That’s what you’re taught in career planning classes and therapy sessions: achievable, real, tangible. The bounds of the imagination shrink.

And it seems so wonderful, when you’re a kid and dreaming of all the lives you could live, to be the first person to do something: to discover something entirely new, to reach some previously unimaginable milestone, to stand atop a mountain no one else has been able to conquer. It’s the newness of it, the uncharted territory and the thrill of discovery, thinking of things that have never been thought before. That’s what makes it so deadening to the spirit when you cut those dreams down to the size of most people’s lives; when your fantasies of being the first to do something incredible become limited by identity categories. You may be the first to do something, but it won’t be because no one else has ever conceived of it before, or because you are discovering something entirely new. You are the first because it is necessary, and you are the first because you are alone. There is prestige to be had, sometimes, and maybe a bit of that thrill — the idea that now, maybe, the realm of what can be imagined has now expanded, whether in a small way or a big one. But, ultimately, when you are the first, when you are the only, you don’t want to be alone anymore. It shouldn’t have to be this way. That’s why you have to be the first. That’s why you have to stand alone.

I think of all the kids who walk into classrooms and find themselves immediately ostracized and isolated, for reasons they can’t quite understand. The teenagers who are the first ever to come out in their families, who are the first to go to college. I think of all the young people who have entered a front office or a press box and felt, before any words are even exchanged, the crushing and soul-numbing pressure of being the only. It is simultaneously a position one chooses — one that takes incredible strength to choose — and a position one is forced into, often by the very same powerful people who would have you believe that they are doing you some kind of great favor. Many times, it is a position that those who come from the outside, who are the firsts and the onlys, find is not worth the price that has to be paid. The dream shrinks; the possibility fades. And from above, shrugs: They just aren’t interested; they just don’t want to do the work; they just weren’t a good fit. What can you do?

Kim Ng, for as long as I’ve been adjacent to baseball, has been among a small handful of names who get floated whenever the idea of a woman becoming the general manager of a baseball team is brought up again. Those few names have been roughly the same, from what I can gather, for the last 20 years. This is despite the massive changes in how front offices are run, the differences in the hiring pool: one limited sphere shifts to another limited sphere, one “just the way it is” to another similarly immobile state of being. Baseball’s imagination remains fixed. The way things are remains, mostly, the way things are.

It is good to celebrate when a good thing happens, when a barrier is broken. With Ng becoming the Marlins’ GM, the scope of what is possible within baseball and professional sports has expanded. An Asian-American woman running a team is now achievable, real, tangible. And those who, in their various plausibly-deniable ways, limited that scope for so many years should not be allowed to give themselves plaudits for being progressive. There should be no laurel-resting. We cannot allow our imaginations to be so limited, to simply accept the way things are. Baseball — a sport that aspires to be more than a sport, a game that positions itself as the spirit of a nation — can be so much more than what we have been led to believe.





Rachael is the current managing editor of The Hardball Times and dilettante-in-residence at FanGraphs. Previous work can be found at Baseball Prospectus, VICE Sports, and The Hardball Times.

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TKDC
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TKDC

There are many things that are looked back on by those that come after and they say “I can’t believe it took that long?” For me, I think the Supreme Court ending state law bans on interracial marriage is one that blew me away; how could it take until 1967? I feel, and I hope, that 20, 30, or 40 years from now when a younger person finds out that Ng was the first female GM in major American sports, and that it was 2020 before it happened, that this will be the reaction. This, because the idea of it not being normal will be so long gone.

Phil
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Phil

What’s even worse is according to Gallup, majority approval for interracial marriage only happened in the mid-90s.

gavinrendar
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gavinrendar

Absolutely. We’ll be saying the same thing about how long it took us to acknowledge the science of prenatal life too. We’re never “done” getting better as a human race.

adambulldog
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adambulldog

Just wait until a fetus becomes a GM! Talk about smashing barriers!

CliffH
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CliffH

Women are not as interested in baseball or in analytical careers, so likely they will remain a substantial minority in baseball front offices indefinitely.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/1100118/interest-level-baseball-gender/

Phil
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Phil

Which is fine – but those women who do want those jobs (and have the talent to do them) should be have the chance to do those jobs. Equality of opportunity does not mean equality of outcome – I don’t think anyone is seriously arguing that baseball FO should be a 50/50 gender split.

Finland has some of the most progressive and equal gender laws in the world – but also has amongst the most ‘traditional’ gender splits in careers in Europe.

whiptydojoe
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whiptydojoe

Hey Phil, not trying to pick a fight, but also trying to further all causes appropriately. Your condition that “(and have the talent to do them)” is harmful long-term for women within this industry and at-large.

Position that phrase in the counter, you’d never write: but those men who do want those jobs (and have the talent to do them.)

Like I said, not trying to pick a fight and realize there was no ill intent meant, but it shows how far we still have to go.

CliffH
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CliffH

Yes, and not only Finland. In general, the greater the equality in the law and culture, the greater the inequality in choice of profession. In cultures where women are oppressed like much of the Arab world, women are engineers in much greater proportion than in say Scandinavia.

MikeS
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MikeS

Maybe in part because baseball has given them so few role models to help them believe they ever could be.

Dominikk85
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Dominikk85

It is true that women are not as interested in STEM but that is because they get indoctrinated as kids. This doesn’t even happen consciously in many cases but it starts in kindergarten when the girl gets a doll and boys get a toy bulldozer.

This means girls from an early age get pushed into social jobs like teachers, nurses or more recently also doctors (not sure how that is in the US but in Germany 60% of young physicians are women).

Interestingly in Germany also 50% of math majors are women but engineers and IT are mostly men (like 80% or so). This means it is probably interest rather than natural talent because anyone who can do math can also do engineering or IT.

gavinrendar
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gavinrendar

Indoctrinated? There is biology to this too. Did you know male monkeys will more likely play with a a truck toy and female monkeys will more likely play with a doll toy? Nature still exists, even when it goes against our narratives.

drewsylvania
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drewsylvania

I for one am FLOORED by the wealth of citations you have provided for this Triple Whopper.

Find some sources for what you’re insinuating.

gavinrendar
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gavinrendar

A fair request!

I tried replying earlier but I’m not sure where my comment went. I included about seven citations, but here’s the BBC one.

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/science-environment-29418230

gavinrendar
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gavinrendar

Haha the citation of the science experiment got downvoted. If that’s not a microcosm of what’s going on here…

drewsylvania
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drewsylvania

It’s being downthumbed because it isn’t proof of anything, let alone what you’re insinuating.

gavinrendar
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gavinrendar

It is absolutely proof that genetics plays a role in differences between male and female behavior, which is the claim I made.

Otherwise, why ask for citations and then say the citations don’t matter after they’re provided? That logic doesn’t follow.

How could you possibly disagree with that, unless you think the monkeys were indoctrinated before the experiment?

drewsylvania
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drewsylvania

I guess you don’t even know what you insinuated.

drewsylvania
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drewsylvania

Why do you think this source proves what you are insinuating?

gavinrendar
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gavinrendar

Doesn’t that go against the definition of an insinuation?