February 23, 2024

Kim Ng has always been principled, earning the undying gratitude of three Dodgers general managers in 10 years as their top assistant. She also embraces the responsibility that comes with breaking ground and representing women in her chosen profession.

So her decision Monday to decline the mutual option on the last year of her contract as general manager of the Miami Marlins was likely a thoughtful one, not a knee-jerk reaction to a disagreement with owner Bruce Sherman.

Ng already knew Sherman is frugal, with the Marlins ranking 26th, 28th and 23rd in payroll during her three seasons as GM. She already knew the franchise has a reputation as dysfunctional, with Derek Jeter stepping down as CEO a year ago, saying the direction of the organization “was not what I had signed up for.”

Two people with knowledge of Ng’s thinking said she wouldn’t walk away from her post as the first female general manager in the four major North American professional sports leagues unless another opportunity beckons or her relationship with Sherman had developed irreconcilable differences, or both.

“Last week, Bruce and I discussed his plan to reshape the baseball operations department,” Ng said in a statement to the Athletic. “In our discussions, it became apparent that we were not completely aligned on what that should look like. I felt it best to step away.”

Ng’s reason aligns with what Jeter said when he described why he stepped down. But her departure comes immediately after the Marlins enjoyed their most successful season in 20 years, unexpectedly making the playoffs after Ng bolstered the roster at the trade deadline with major contributors Josh Bell and Jake Burger.

On the day the Marlins clinched a playoff berth, Sherman was effusive in his praise of Ng, saying: “Not easy being in her role at all. Can you imagine that? First female GM in all of baseball history. Unbelievable. And all the moves, all the trade moves, have been excellent.”

Precisely how the relationship could sour so quickly is unknown for now. Ng, 54, recognizes that her actions reverberate outside of baseball, that she is looked up to as a role model by young women and Asian Americans.

“Because if I didn’t, it would all be a waste,” Ng told The Times’ Dylan Hernandez shortly after she was hired by the Marlins in 2021. “It’s hard to take this as just my life. Because when you have so many people telling you what an inspiration you are to their sisters, their daughters, their mothers, it’s hard not to recognize that. I don’t think I could ever take that for granted.”

She likely didn’t take for granted becoming general manager of the Marlins. She interviewed unsuccessfully for five other such openings while working under Dodgers general managers Paul DePodesta and Ned Colletti, Jeter in Miami, and for Joe Torre in the Major League Baseball office.

Jeter knew Ng from her stint as New York Yankees assistant general manager from 1998-2000 — all World Series championship seasons — and hired her in Miami.

“When Derek told me I got the job, there was a 10,000-pound weight lifted off of this shoulder,” Ng said at her introductory news conference in November 2020. “And then, about half an hour later, I realized that it had just been transferred to this shoulder. I do feel quite a lot of responsibility. I have my entire career. I know that I am quite visible.

“You’re bearing the torch for so many. That is a big responsibility, but I take it on.”

Two teams (besides the Marlins) are in the market for a general manager: the Boston Red Sox fired Chaim Bloom and Billy Eppler left the New York Mets. Both situations would afford far more financial flexibility than the Marlins.

The Mets, however, hired David Stearns as president of baseball operations, making the general manager post a clear second in command. Ng served as MLB senior vice president of baseball operations from 2011 until being hired by the Marlins, so a return to MLB headquarters wouldn’t be a surprise.

Ng hasn’t said anything negative about Sherman and the Marlins and likely won’t publicly. Her statement to the Athletic concluded with, “I wish to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to the Marlins family and its fans for my time in South Florida. This year was a great step forward for the organization.”

That sounds a lot like the Ng described by former Dodgers general manager Dan Evans, who first hired Ng as an intern with the Chicago White Sox in the mid-1990s and hired her again as Dodgers assistant general manager in 2001. When the Marlins made their groundbreaking hire of her as general manager, Evans reflected on one of Ng’s most admired qualities — class.

“With all the challenges that the McCourts brought to the front office and the [Dodgers] franchise, if you look back, she was never involved in anything negative publicly,” Evans told the Athletic. “She always kept her head above the chaos and nonsense.”

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