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When will Major League Baseball hire its first female general manager?

Behind the scenes of Major League Baseball, team management and leadership is slowly becoming more diverse. In part, the rise of “Moneyball” analytics has helped broaden the kind of knowledge and experience that ball clubs seek in hiring. Special correspondent John Carlos Frey talks to two high-level baseball executives who are challenging the stereotypes.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Opening day for baseball begins this holiday weekend. The first game is Sunday night, when the Saint Louis Cardinals take on the Chicago Cubs. And then all others teams throw their first pitch on Monday.

    We recently took note of how the league is trying to make some changes to the game on the field. But there are also some changes under way behind the scenes when it comes to the management and leadership of Major League ball clubs.

    Special correspondent John Carlos Frey has the story.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    These teenagers are some of the best young baseball players in Latin America and the United States. They came here, to USA Baseball headquarters in Cary, North Carolina, to show off their talents to pro scouts, who might turn them into the future faces of Major League Baseball.

    Closely tracking their development is Kim Ng.

  • KIM NG, Assistant General Manager, Major League Baseball:

    I run our scouting division. And that’s under my purview.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    As Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of baseball operations, Ng is one of the highest -ranking women in all of professional sports.

  • KIM NG:

    I do travel a lot.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    She’s been in baseball for over two decades, starting as an intern with the Chicago White Sox. Then, in 1998, the Yankees called with a big offer.

  • KIM NG:

    Brian Cashman of the New York Yankees hired me as his assistant general manager in New York. I was there for four years and then I went on to be the assistant general manager of the Dodgers for nine years.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    Ng is one of only three women to ever hold an assistant general manager position in Major League Baseball.

  • KIM NG:

    I don’t think anyone could’ve seen this 20 years ago.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    Do you see yourself during that 20-year career breaking down barriers?

  • KIM NG:

    I do. There are certain points in time when I’m able to step back and look at it and understand the magnitude of what’s happened.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    Do you have to work harder because you’re a woman?

  • KIM NG:

    Absolutely, sure. I walk into a room of 50 guys, and the only one — the only person they will probably doubt is me.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    Still, Ng’s ascension to the top of baseball’s ranks may represent the inevitability of a slow trend towards diversity in the game’s management.

  • FARHAN ZAIDI, General Manager, Los Angeles Dodgers:

    If I’m going to put my geek cap on, it’s a statistical impossibility that every — that the best candidate for every position in baseball is a middle-aged Caucasian male.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    With a bachelor’s degree from MIT and a Ph.D. in economics from Berkeley, Farhan Zaidi’s resume reads like a better fit for the World Bank than Major League Baseball.

    But after 10 years with the Oakland athletics, Zaidi is now a general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the first Muslim general manager of any major American sports franchise.

  • FARHAN ZAIDI:

    It’s not something I wake up every morning and think about, you know, like I’m going into work today as the, you know, first Muslim-American general manager in professional sports. I think that’s probably the first time I have said it out loud.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    It’s a big deal.

  • FARHAN ZAIDI:

    Yes. I’m proud of it, but I know I’m such a small part of what, you know, I hope happens in our sport and in sports in general, which is, you know I don’t think baseball or any sport belongs to anyone or any one group of people.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    While many will see Zaidi’s achievement as a breakthrough, for him, it is the fruition of an impossible dream for a boy born to Pakistani parents in Canada and raised in the Philippines.

  • FARHAN ZAIDI:

    If you ask me what my dream job was, I would have said working for a baseball team, but that will never happen.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    But you weren’t working towards that goal?

  • FARHAN ZAIDI:

    No, I mean, and, again, just because I felt it would be like saying, you know, you were working towards winning at the lottery. I mean, how do you do that, you know?

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    That answer came in Michael Lewis’ book “Moneyball,” about the rise of analytics, or deep statistical analysis in baseball, championed by free-thinking Oakland athletics general manager Billy Beane.

  • FARHAN ZAIDI:

    I was in a Ph.D. program at the University of California, Berkeley, when I finally read the book “Moneyball.”  And I would actually say that was the first time when I felt like somebody with my background, with my sort of limited baseball background and, you know, maybe with my education profile, could contribute to a Major League front office.

    And then I came upon this posting for a baseball operations assistant position with the A’s. And it just seemed like the perfect fit, because it was with the A’s, it was with Billy Beane, and it was a very quantitative position by nature.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    It sounds like you really wanted the job.

  • FARHAN ZAIDI:

    There was really no stone that was I going to leave unturned sort of in my preparation process. I learned the organization inside out. I learned the minor league system, you know, what people in the front office did. I just wanted to feel like, you know, I wanted to walk out of that interview saying, I spent too much time preparing.

  • BILLY BEANE, General Manager, Oakland Athletics:

    I was lucky to have Farhan walk through those doors. I think that highly of him. He’s a great baseball executive. He’s a better person. I mean, I get upset thinking about it. He’s really special. Yes, I mean, it means a lot to me.

    Oh, hey. Nice shirt.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • FARHAN ZAIDI:

    You get sent home if you wear the wrinkled version.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    After a decade working together in Oakland, the mentor and his protégé met for the first time as competitors at a spring training this year when Beane’s Athletics faced Zaidi’s Dodgers.

  • BILLY BEANE:

    This is a billion-dollar industry where the best and the brightest should get the opportunity. And that’s the way we looked at it with Farhan. It looked to be a very wise decision, because here he is right now running one of the biggest sports franchises on the globe, and he deserves it.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    Zaidi is part of a generation of post-“Moneyball” executives who now bring strong analytic backgrounds, but little or no on-field experience to baseball management jobs.

  • FARHAN ZAIDI:

    Whether you’re tracking the spin of the ball or the speed of the first step of the defensive player in pursuing a fly ball, there’s so many pieces of information that you can collect on a baseball field. And from a front office standpoint, it just makes sense to use all that information to your advantage.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    It sounds a little surprising to me. I mean, we are talking about a game here. We’re talking about baseball. We’re not talking about a cure for cancer.

  • FARHAN ZAIDI:

    Right, but we are also talking, I mean, when you are talking about the Dodgers, about a team with a $250 million payroll. And it’s a $2 billion company. There are so many meetings that I have sat in over the last 10 years where I have thought, you know, the group of people in this room is not at all representative of the face of this country.

    I don’t think it was inevitable that a Muslim with my background was going to get into baseball. It was just me being at the right place at the right time. And I think that will happen with, you know, a prominent female in sports, whether it’s position as a commissioner or as a general manager. There is an increasing number of qualified candidates.

    And I think it will be a reminder to us of how broad our fan base in baseball really is, that it crosses all age and gender and ethnic and religious lines.

  • KIM NG:

    So, it’s been fun.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    Kim Ng still has more work to do in baseball. Like those prospects she’s been tracking, she will wait for now for her next big break in the majors.

  • KIM NG:

    I think seeing a woman general manager would be a great thing. I have actually interviewed for a number of jobs, general managerships, unfortunately haven’t gotten one yet, but I think have come close. So, hopefully, that’s still on the horizon for me or somebody else.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    Do you think that a man with your same resume and experience in Major League Baseball would have already been a general manager?

  • KIM NG:

    Hard to say.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    It’s likely?

  • KIM NG:

    I would say so.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    So when they come down to the decision of whether to pick you or somebody as qualified, gender comes into play?

  • KIM NG:

    I think it does. Yes, I think it’s — I think it’s hard for some people to imagine.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    I’m just kind of curious as to why they would pick the man just because he is a man.

  • KIM NG:

    I have no answer for you on that one.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    You would be the highest-ranking women in all of Major League sports, if you were general manager.

  • KIM NG:

    I believe so. If it were to happen, I think my mother would be very proud.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    Your mother?  What about you?

  • KIM NG:

    I would be very proud, too. There is no doubt.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    That glass ceiling would be broken for good, I would imagine.

  • KIM NG:

    I hope so. I hope it’s not a one-time deal. You know, it will become much less of a novelty. And, hopefully, people will consider and recognize and understand what we’re capable of.

  • JOHN CARLOS FREY:

    For PBS NewsHour, I’m John Carlos Frey in Cary, North Carolina

     

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