Walking around major League Baseball's recent winter meetings in Florida, Kim Ng might just as well have been one of the boys. While she may be the most prominent woman in the 30 executive offices of baseball's various teams, her colleagues no longer notice the novelty. They just know the 38-year-old assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers knows her baseball stuff--from negotiating player salaries in the back rooms to assessing talent on the field. Last year she interviewed for the top Dodgers job, but finished as a runner-up. The opportunity to run a baseball team doesn't happen often--GM vacancies are rare. But when the next one occurs, or perhaps the one after that, she's in the best position to become the first female GM in a major U.S. sport--as well as an Asian-American pioneer. "What impresses me about Kim is she's able to work in an environment where she's basically the only one," says Omar Minaya, general manager of the New York Mets and the game's first Hispanic GM. "She's as tough as anybody."
The oldest of five girls, Ng was raised in Queens, N.Y. As a city kid, she distinguished herself as a stickball player on the corner of 173rd Street and 65th Avenue and then as an MVP infielder on the University of Chicago's softball team. She majored in public policy, yet wanted a job in baseball. She got an internship with the Chicago White Sox, becoming a wizard at salary arbitrations. She landed with the New York Yankees and then left for L.A. Her most glaring moment in the sun happened in 2003 when a Mets executive mocked her Chinese background in front of other MLB execs; he was fired, and she was put in the position of becoming a standard-bearer against discrimination. "I was thinking, 'Listen, boys, this is what I deal with all the time'," Ng recalls. "I didn't want it to become a big deal."
She's similarly ambivalent about gender's making her stand out. She knows the feeling: it used to be at baseball meetings that heads would turn as if to ask, "Who is she ?" So Ng recognizes that a team might consider her as GM in part because she's a woman. But she's also ambitious and thinks she's worthy of consideration, regardless of what's motivating a team. "There are downsides of people having preconceived notions, but there are also the positives," she says. "You have every right to use that." Sounds like she's a pretty skilled negotiator indeed.