How Ng built a winning culture in Miami

October 3rd, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- Kim Ng knew what was at stake when the Marlins hired her as general manager in November 2020, becoming the first woman to serve in that capacity for any major professional men's team in North American sports.

Being a pioneer comes with immense pressure. Should Miami flounder in the uber-competitive National League East, doubters would blame the person in charge. Though unfair, future generations of women might not receive similar opportunities in baseball based on how Ng fared in the male-dominated industry.

"You go back to my press conference, where I said, ‘Failure is not an option,’ and that has really come full circle, and that's where it needed to get to,” Ng reflected on Saturday night after the Marlins clinched their first full-season postseason berth since 2003. “And so we're here, but we still have more work to do. And these guys know that."

Ng’s Marlins are set to face the reigning NL champion Phillies in the Wild Card Series beginning on Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park, but her proclamation three years ago was a bold one. She had joined an organization with the fourth-worst record in the Majors since 2004 that was perennially in the cellar of the division.

Turning the Marlins into the NL’s fifth seed didn't happen overnight. Ng and her staff have added valuable pieces to the roster over time, beginning with Tuesday’s Game 1 starter, Jesús Luzardo. Both Luzardo and projected starting left fielder Bryan De La Cruz came to Miami ahead of the 2021 Trade Deadline in exchange for players with expiring contracts.

Tanner Scott, who has become one of MLB’s top late-inning arms, was part of a five-player trade with the Orioles toward the end of Spring Training in 2022. When All-Star second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr. volunteered to move to center field, it paved the way for the Marlins to acquire now two-time batting champion Luis Arraez from the Twins in January.

"She's great at what she does," said Scott, whose 104 strikeouts led all NL relievers. "Look what she did. It's awesome. She brought me in, she brought a lot of guys in, and it's awesome to see that happen."

Arguably Ng's most important decision came last November, when she hired first-time manager Skip Schumaker to succeed the franchise’s winningest skipper in Don Mattingly. Building a winning culture -- reminiscent of the one Schumaker grew into during eight seasons (2005-12) as a player with the Cardinals and one season ('22) as their bench coach -- would start from the top.

Ng and Schumaker have turned the Marlins into a tight-knit family. Schumaker, who calls the relationship between the GM and the manager the most important one within an organization, shocked himself by saying he hasn’t argued with Ng since taking the job.

"I told her when we hugged on the field, 'Thank you for trusting me,'" Schumaker said. "She could have picked anybody, and she decided to pick me. And I promise you, not everybody in the room wanted me. I know. I'm not dumb. That's just what it is. I'm sure there were a lot of people that were pushing for somebody else, and that's OK. 

"But you have to prove people right or prove people wrong in the game. I've had a chip on my shoulder as a player that continues -- I'm sure you guys know -- as a manager. But she has trusted me along the way. I trust her with every decision she's made as far as getting or acquiring players, and her staff has been amazing to help us through this.” 

And those moves have paid off. Intending to be buyers at the Trade Deadline for the first time in seven years, Ng received full support from the ownership group to upgrade the lineup and bolster the bullpen. Third baseman Jake Burger (130 OPS+), first baseman Josh Bell (119 OPS+) and late-inning reliever David Robertson (four saves) helped catapult the ballclub into the postseason, while left-handed starter Ryan Weathers is a reclamation project much like Luzardo was two years ago.

"Kim's been fabulous," principal owner Bruce Sherman said. "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."

There is some uncertainty with regard to Ng's future since her contract is set to expire at the end of the season. The Marlins would be foolish to not bring her back. She has the support of the coaching staff and players, as evidenced by the celebration inside the visitors' clubhouse at PNC Park on Saturday.

"I told you guys, that's my mom," Chisholm said. "That's 'Mama Kim' right there, you know what I'm saying? She's been doing the right thing, making the right moves every year, and this year just shows what she can do. I just hope she stays with us, and I hope we get more in the future."