Jean Afterman is a boss — both literally and figuratively.
A pivotal figure in the Yankees’ front office since 2001, Afterman is identified as one of the most powerful women in baseball, but also one of the most influential figures in the entire sport.
Afterman didn’t always dream of making a life in baseball, or even sports, for that matter. After leaving her position at Paramount Pictures to attend law school, she hoped they would offer her another job following graduation. Thank goodness they didn’t. Instead, she went to work for a small civil litigation where she met Don Nomura. Together, they started representing Japanese baseball players who were trying to come to the United States. The pair represented the likes of Hideki Irabu and Hideo Nomo, as well as Alfonso Soriano, who all ultimately made their way to the New York Yankees.
By 2001, Afterman and the Yankees achieved something never done before in the history of professional sports: taking over for Kim Ng (now the current general manager of Derek Jeter’s Marlins). It was the first time that two women had occupied the assistant GM role back-to-back. Upon her hiring, George Steinbrenner assigned Afterman to go to Japan to bring a certain Hideki Matsui state-side. “You go East,” she recalls Steinbrenner warning. “But if you don’t come back with him, you keep heading East. Don’t ever turn around.” Cheers, Mr. Steinbrenner. But of course, Godzilla came to New York, where he played a significant role in the Yankees’ success from 2003 through 2009. Matsui earned MVP honors in the 2009 World Series — a World Series victory which is partially accredited to Afterman herself.
After the triumph, Afterman was given the title “Senior Vice President” in 2012, and in 2019, Baseball America bestowed upon her the “Trailblazer Award,” an honor that celebrates her efforts in “opening paths in baseball front offices for women.” Having women present in both the front office and in every other facet of baseball is important to Afterman not just for diversity’s sake, but because “intellect is gender-blind.” For young women eager to make a career in baseball, she states, “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.”
That line of thinking is certainly becoming the case more frequently over the most recent years. In addition to Kim Ng at the helm of the Marlins, Alyssa Nakken became the first full-time female coach with the San Francisco Giants, and the first female to coach on the field during a Major League game. In 2019, Rachel Balkovec joined the Yankees’ minor league coaching staff as a hitting coach, and Bianca Smith became the first professional black female coach in 2020 with the Boston Red Sox.
As society continues to evolve and organizations begin to recognize the value of skills and intellect over the simple existence of a professional playing career, Jean also believes the front offices are in a unique time. Young girls who have dreamt of leading organizations can now take heart and believe in the future. “ We have a lot of GMs out here who never played the game of baseball.” So take heart, girls everywhere, and work hard, because there’s a place for you if you only work hard and believe in yourselves.
“Hopefully, we’re entering into a new world order,” Afterman said, “where really it’s your talent, your intelligence, your thinking outside the box, your ability to inspire others — hopefully, all of these things are important, rather than your gender or your physical traits.”
“Jean Afterman.” Baseball Reference. (2021). Retrieved 14 September 2021, from https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Jean_Afterman.
King, George. “2019 Trailblazer of the Year Award: Jean Afterman.” Baseball America. 2 December 2019. Retrieved 14 September 2021, from https://www.baseballamerica.com/stories/2019-trailblazer-of-the-year-award-jean-afterman/.