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Yankees AGM Afterman joins Executive Access

@feinsand
June 15, 2020

Executive Access is running a series of throwback episodes from 2017, including this week’s episode featuring Yankees assistant general manager Jean Afterman. Jean Afterman once dreamed of a life in the theater, but working in baseball has provided plenty of theatrics for the Bay Area native. The Yankees’ assistant general

Executive Access is running a series of throwback episodes from 2017, including this week’s episode featuring Yankees assistant general manager Jean Afterman.

Jean Afterman once dreamed of a life in the theater, but working in baseball has provided plenty of theatrics for the Bay Area native.

The Yankees’ assistant general manager since December 2001, Afterman began her baseball career on the agency side of the business. On several occasions, she was afforded the opportunity to sit on the other side of the negotiating table from George Steinbrenner, which she once called a highlight of her theatrical career.

“It’s interesting; when I negotiated across the table from him, I was able to call him George,” Afterman said on a 2017 episode of Executive Access. “Coming to the Yankees, then it’s Mr. Steinbrenner. I always enjoyed jousting with him.”

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Having been raised with an “if you have something to say, you say it” approach, Afterman would often challenge Steinbrenner during those sessions.

“The idea that he wouldn’t tolerate resistance was nonsense,” Afterman said. “My experience was that he was just waiting for somebody to talk back. … I’m not a shrinking violet, so it seemed to me the easiest thing in the world. Around the dinner table at my family’s house, everybody is talking at the same time, so talking over George was not difficult because I had learned that at many Thanksgivings. So I enjoyed that.”

Seven years into her baseball career, Afterman was hired as the Yankees’ assistant GM, following Kim Ng, who had left for the same position with the Dodgers. Steinbrenner was no longer just “the Boss,” but rather her boss.

“Working for him was the best training in the world,” Afterman said. “Because he was so demanding, you had to be on your game all the time. You had to know absolutely everything. He had an uncanny ability to ask you the one thing you didn’t have an answer for. You just had to look him straight in the eye and say, ‘I don’t have an answer to that and I will get one for you as soon as possible.’

“I always tell people, everything they have ever heard about George Steinbrenner -- good and bad -- it’s all true. You don’t have to make somebody a saint to appreciate what a tremendous person they were. The fact that he’s not in the Hall of Fame is staggering to me.”

Nearly two decades after joining the Yankees, Afterman is currently one of two female assistant GMs in the league, as Boston promoted Raquel Ferreira to the position in December. They represent half of the women ever to hold that title for a big league club, following Elaine Steward of the Red Sox and Ng, who has been assistant GM for both the Yankees and Dodgers.

Why haven’t more women emerged in high-level roles within baseball operations departments around the game?

“In this day and age, I think the cultures are changing in baseball front offices,” Afterman said. “At one time, the general managers were ex-ballplayers, very close to the field, not a lot of business involved. Now, a front office has grown exponentially; there are so many elements to a front office that weren’t there. Then there was this huge wave of MBAs and Ivy League guys and everybody felt that they were the second coming. Then there was a huge wave now of owners [selecting] data folks who are heavy into analytics.

“Brian said to me when I took the job, ‘The job is defined by the person that sits in the chair.’ I think that’s true. The job in a front office is multi-faceted; it’s not one face. You can’t be only an ex-player, because you’ll fail. You can’t be only a Harvard MBA because you’ll fail, and you can’t be only an analytics person or else you’ll fail. I think that you have to find the right candidates who kind of combine a lot of those skills and talents, or somebody who can recognize and put people in those positions.

“Why aren’t there more women? I have no idea. I guess my sum total of what I’m saying is that you have to have a mind -- an active mind -- and you have to be really smart to be in a front office and to be a general manager, an assistant general manager or any of the other people that I work with in my department. Women are just as smart -- if not smarter -- than men, so I think it’s a matter of opportunity.

“Maybe some young women out there don’t know or feel that they wouldn’t be considered a candidate. I challenge all the ballclubs out there to show young women out there that they could be a viable candidate because there’s absolutely no reason why [not]. Look, I never played baseball and I’m here.”

Listen to Afterman’s entire interview on Executive Access, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, Art 19 or wherever you get your podcasts.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.