Where will MLB's first woman GM come from?
Ever since Kim Ng interviewed to be general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers' in 2005, Major League Baseball still awaits its first woman GM.
Ng played the game the way almost every aspiring exec of any gender would, could or should. Starting as an intern for the Chicago White Sox before being hired to work in baseball operations in 1991, she did a stint in the American League office and then became an assistant general manager for the Yankees in 1998. Other women have become assistant GMs, like Elaine Weddington Steward with the Red Sox in the early '90s, or Jean Afterman with the Yankees. But perhaps singularly, Kim's career path, ability and ambition earned her consideration.
But now, after 13-odd years without an answer, that question's perhaps literally going gray, as younger men have landed the top jobs. And while her chance may never come, the industry is now asking a more basic question: Where will the next Kim Ng come from?
Baseball's working on answering that. When it comes to getting women in the game, not only does baseball's track record need to improve, baseball already knows it. A year ago, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport in handed MLB a C for its gender hiring with a grade of 70. That improved this year to a 71, an incremental gain reflecting a difficult challenge. You can open up front-office career paths in areas with crossover skills like finance, legal or media relations. But in sport-specific operations departments, where people help decide who's on the field, who gets drafted and who's on the team, the ranks of women become more scarce.
For baseball, that means more than creating equal opportunities, or advertising them. It has meant finding the women who are ready, and preparing those who could be. In short, it's asking baseball people to solve a baseball problem: finding baseball talent who happen to be women.
MLB has made some progress so far. Since January 2016, when the league started its Diversity Pipeline Program aimed at increasing the number of women and minorities working within the game, 51 women have been hired to work in baseball operations departments across the industry -- an increase of almost 40 percent. Twenty-four women are now working in on-field roles, including a dozen as athletic trainers. Ten women are working in baseball analytics and research and development, seven of whom have been hired in the past two years.
But this is an industry where relationships accrete over lifetimes and where you don't see a lot of front-office turnover. So to integrate women into the talent pool of people making baseball decisions, you have to start at the beginning, where people start their careers. The groundwork is already being laid with women like Amanda Hopkins of the Seattle Mariners or Haley Alvarez with the Oakland Athletics.
When Hopkins was hired in December 2015, she became the first full-time woman scout in more than 50 years. But she also didn't come into the job a stranger to the game or to scouting; her father has been a scout for the Rangers, A's, Orioles and (currently) Pirates organizations. So stepping into the job with the Mariners, she knew what to expect from a career driving from one dusty diamond to another in the Four Corners region.
"Growing up with it, a lot of scouts today had a father who was a scout, or knew somebody who was a scout," Hopkins reflected. "If you were a fly on the wall, watching me at work, you would see everything I do and think, 'She doesn't do anything differently.' It's not about the fact that I'm female. I'm here to scout, I'm not a female scout. I'm here to do my job."
It's a job that requires some of the same resilience and patience that players on the field have to have. A scout isn't just in tune with the game's rhythm of success and failure, it's something they have to live with and endure themselves, following players over time. Having that isn't about gender, it's about being a certain kind of person, committed to relentless self-improvement.
For Alvarez, a scouting coordinator for the A's, her career path reflects how much a front-office candidate can create her own opportunities. Starting off as an undergrad at the University of Virginia, she became a manager of the men's team -- a top-tier Division 1 program that won the College World Series during her time there -- and where she also gained experience with the analytical side of front office work using TrackMan software.
"Talking to executives, using UVA as a network -- because there are a lot of people who won in baseball who went to UVA -- [I used] every piece as a stepping stone to work my way up," Alvarez says.
She held internships with the Red Sox, the commissioner's office and the A's -- which turned into an opportunity to go to scout school sponsored by Oakland -- before landing a job as an administrative assistant with the Reds for a year before the Bay Area native returned to the A's in November.
The way to conquer this is numbers. It shouldn't rest on one or two people's shoulders.Kim Ng
Baseball teams hiring candidates with the pedigrees and passion of Alvarez or Hopkins is arguably the easy part. They were already obviously baseball people, young professionals who acquired the skills early that made them good hires. Enthusiastic headlines aside, they're also decades away from being in the mix for bigger roles and gaining the kind of consideration Ng has for a GM job. They know it.
"There's a lot to learn right now; I want to be the best area scout I can be. I want to be a cross-checker (next)," Hopkins said. "From there, I'll set another goal. This profession takes years of experience. You're never done learning."
MLB's mission to find candidates goes beyond finding naturals, it extends to grooming potential. What's next is harder: Expanding the pool of women trying to get into the game. And here, progress for women tracks with other changes in the game. In the same way the MLB itself has gotten into the business of training future executives -- opportunities that provided shared experiences for current GMs like Matt Klentak of the Phillies or David Stearns of the Brewers -- the industry's head office is proactively working to improve the pool of candidates. Under the direction of Renee Tirado, MLB's vice president of talent and head of diversity and inclusion, the industry is working to expand its pool of women it can recruit.
"This is not just us putting jobs in baseball ops out there on a website and hoping to get random people," Tirado says. "This is about going out there, cultivating candidates, finding them, prepping them, getting them ready to be successful when the opportunities arise. If there are women out there who are patient and willing to invest in themselves as much as we're willing to invest in them, we'll build this out for them, and we'll help them break through."
Tirado works with 20-year MLB veteran Tyrone Brooks, who is MLB's senior director of the front office and field staff Diversity Pipeline Program. In a sense, Brooks is still scouting and grooming talent in the same way he had in the Braves and Pirates organizations. He says he sees analytics and research and development as areas where women can move up in baseball.
"We have to see if people have a passion for the game, but we also help them identify what their skill set is and how that can be applied in our industry and in baseball operations," Brooks said. "You don't have to have played, it's about what your skills are and who you are -- and if you're willing to put in the time."
That reflects the rise of sabermetrics, where quantitative analysis of player performance is informing team decisions. But not all smart statheads are men. Take Julia Prusaczyk, for example, a recent product of MLB's effort to find that kind of talent. A senior at Tufts University majoring in chemical engineering and scheduled to graduate this spring, she'll immediately head into a job as a baseball development analyst for the Cardinals this summer, having already logged an internship working for sabermetric legend Tom Tango on StatCast for MLB.
"Baseball had always been a family thing for me," she says. "I didn't even know it was a field until my sophomore year. A lot of women are deterred and see it as a boy's club, but those barriers are being broken down. This is a big thing in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) too. ... But those things are starting to break down, even in childhood, being less binary in encouraging interests. I don't want to be here just because I'm a woman, I want to be here because I deserve to be. If you're qualified, you should go for it."
It should come as no surprise that Ng herself has a hand in helping bring the game to this point. Since 2011, she's been MLB's senior vice president of baseball operations. She's also on MLB's diversity advisory council, working to come up with different programming and helping to identify obstacles and barriers, asking how to educate not just MLB's staff, but also educate young women about the opportunities that now exist for them.
"It's a much more interesting time," Ng said. "The way to conquer this is numbers. It shouldn't rest on one or two people's shoulders. The fact that there's now this larger group is a very good signal to the industry that we're finally making some headway."
"I don't know if Kim will ever get enough credit for blazing that trail," A's GM David Forst said. "It's totally unfair that the one question about Kim might be, 'Why wasn't she a GM?' The fact that she got in when she did, and continued to move up in those roles, is a huge reason why we are where we are. And not just for women, for people who hadn't played the game. She opened doors for a lot of us."