The Daily Californian tells us more than we need to know about Jean Afterman -
In the cut-throat world of Major League Baseball’s front offices, it’s hard to know when you have arrived. Jobs are transitory, achievements ephemeral.
However, one litmus test for success over the decades had been showing one’s mettle across the negotiating table from George “The Boss” Steinbrenner.
The notoriously intimidating, bullish late owner of the New York Yankees was known for his no-frills, win-at-all-costs mentality. He’d fire employees, even managers, with a hairpin trigger, had a well-documented temper and expected nothing less than superlative excellence at all times.
To negotiate with “The Boss” must have been an exercise in near futility.
So when Jean Afterman, a Cal graduate representing Japanese free agents, not only survived contract negotiations, but thrived, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman took notice.
Eventually, he offered Afterman a job: assistant general manager of one professional sports’ most historically successful franchises. Today, after handling nearly half a billion dollars in contracts each year and wooing Hideki Matsui to the Bronx, Afterman is the subject of whispers around the league: could she become the first female GM in MLB history?
Before the San Francisco native joined the Yankees, she was a precocious young UC Berkeley student and an actress who won the hearts and minds of the city’s eclectic art scene.
“It was like being big man on campus only being big woman on campus,” Afterman says, tongue-in-cheek. “Baby, I was a star!”
One can certainly imagine Afterman finding success on the stage. In conversation, she is confident and intelligent. She is at the top of her game, and she knows it. Her light sense of humor and infectious joie de vivre leaves listeners captivated. She epitomizes what the Yankees stand for in American sports: she is a charming, charismatic executive whose panache is only matched by her unmistakable record of excellence.
“She was as much as a spit-fire then as she is now,” says Tony Taccone, a friend of Afterman’s at Cal and now the artistic director at the Berkeley Repertory Theater. “She had great timing, great sense of personal bearing. She was funny, smart, witty. She just immediately knew what the game was about.”
Staring in countless productions, from “As You Like It” to “The Frog,” Afterman earned numerous accolades — including the two most prominent dramatic art prizes at Berkeley for students.
Yet, after graduating from Cal in 1979, Afterman’s journey to the lights of Broadway took a radically different trajectory.
After years of bouncing between Europe and the East Coast, Afterman declared to friends over dinner that she was going to be a lawyer. Within months she was enrolled at the University of San Francisco’s law school. Following a brief dalliance with criminal prosecution – a path she admits is odd for a self-described “lefty liberal” – Afterman found her way into the world of civil litigation, seemingly a far cry from the bohemian theater scene of her college years.
On a business trip to Japan in 1994, Afterman discovered her future business partner, agent Don Nomura, and her love for Japanese baseball.
Before long, Afterman began to specialize in “liberating” Japanese baseball players from feudal domestic contracts. In the 1990s, Nippon Professional Baseball clubs, like pitcher Hideo Nomo’s Kintetsu Buffaloes, were loath to allow talented Japanese players to jump ship for the greener pastures of the MLB. Heated contract disputes followed, leaving players in limbo.
In 1995, Afterman and Nomura finally discovered a loophole that would allow the right-hander to leave Japan. Due to an agreement between the two leagues, if a Japanese player declared his retirement he would be relieved of any contractual obligation and could freely sign with an American club. Nomo “retired” and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers later that year.
Having established a reputation as a top agent for Japanese talent, Afterman negotiated with Major League clubs all around the country until she received that fateful call from Cashman. After numerous negotiations with her, he had a proposition. Preferring to have Afterman on his side of the table rather than across from him, Cashman offered her a job which completed Afterman’s circuitous path to the Yankees in 2001.
An Afterman sighting…it happens once every three years or so in Yankeeland…