Jean Afterman never envisioned a life in sports, but here she is closing out her second decade in the front office of the most successful franchise in professional sports.
Afterman, who has been the Yankees’ assistant general manager since 2001, originally imagined a life in the film or law industry, but found herself involved in representing baseball players from overseas as a result of her law work, which sparked a passion that began a successful and historic tenure with the Yanks.
“When I left paramount pictures to go to law school…I thought paramount would want me back…but they didn’t have a job for me,” Afterman told Moose & Maggie on Tuesday, when she appeared as the second guest spotlighting trailblazing women in the sports and entertainment landscape. “I went to work at a small civil litigation firm, and there I met Don Nomura. He became by business partner…my brother from another mother. Together we started representing Japanese players coming to the United States. We kind of discovered an interest in that when I was over in Japan working on a civil litigation case for him. Hideo Nomo was our first client.”
Afterman and Nomura also represented Alfonso Soriano and Hideki Irabu, and by 2001, she was on the other side of those negotiations, now a member of the Yankees front office when she replaced Kim Ng as assistant GM.
“Brian Cashman and George Steinbrenner are the only two individuals who have had not one but two women assistant GMs back to back in all of professional spot,” Afterman said. “When I came to the Yankee front office, it was an incredibly diverse front office. It’s a little like being a plaintiff’s attorney and a defendant’s attorney. You have to see both sides to be able to represent both of them. Shifting the mindset to the club was a learning curve.”
Afterman has forged a historic career in baseball, and was named Baseball America’s Trailblazer of the Year in 2019. A year later, Ng was named general manager of the Marlins, and talking with Raquel Ferreria, assistant GM of the Red Sox, Afterman’s reaction was the same as Ferreira’s when they heard the news of Ng’s hiring: “It’s about effin time.”
“Kim has been qualified for quite a long time,” Afterman said. “She’s been the right person for a lot of these jobs. It’s a testament to Derek Jeter and the Marlins that they had the courage, and it does take courage, even in this day and age, that they hired Kim because she was the best person for the job.”
Afterman, Ng and Ferreria now represent a growing group of women in baseball, though Afterman would like to see that number grow in the future, and believes it is heading in that direction. But she will always be among the first.
“I think it’s still unfortunately a man’s world…and women have to be bigger, better, faster and smarter to get the same job that a man would be considered for,” Afterman said. “But I do believe in baseball we are in unique times in front offices where it’s really the quality of your intellect and your skills and talent that get you hired. We have a lot of GMs out here who never played the game of baseball. And that used to be a qualification. They’re doing a fine job.”
As for Afterman’s advice for other women who want to make an impact in the sport, she believes that more and more teams are seeing the value that multiple women have brought to their franchises, and the hard work of women in baseball is paying off.
“I think intellect is gender blind,” Afterman said. “I think for young women coming into baseball, it’s important to see that there are currently women at every level of the game. I have an old-fashioned idea is if you work hard…the results will come.”