Claire Smith Wins Place in Writers Wing of Baseball Hall of Fame

When it comes to baseball and women, perhaps what quickly comes to mind for many people is the scene in the movie “A League of Their Own” when Tom Hanks yells at a female player, “There’s no crying in baseball!”

But no one is faulting baseball writer Claire Smith for shedding some tears earlier this month when she became the first woman to win the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

“To say that I shed a few tears is an understatement,” Smith, 62, said in an interview with the Hall of Fame about the announcement, which was made in Washington, D.C. “It was just one of the most special moments in my life, absolutely.”

As the 68th person to receive the award, Smith will join such writing luminaries as Ring Lardner, Damon Runyon, Heywood Broun, Red Smith and Roger Angell in a special wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. She will be inducted in July for “her meritorious contributions to baseball writing.”

Smith’s accomplishment is bigger than a game-winning grand slam home run in extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series. Not only has she spent more than three decades doing excellent work in a field that has been, over the years, less than welcoming to women, but she has also won the respect and admiration of her fellow baseball writers as well as many players and managers.

As the first African-American woman to cover Major League Baseball on a daily basis for a newspaper, Smith faced monumental challenges. Some players refused to talk to her because they thought a woman should not be covering baseball and should not be in the clubhouse. But Smith is always quick to point out that even as she was shunned by some, others — among them former Dodgers pitcher Steve Garvey — helped her out by granting her interviews.

Smith has covered baseball for the Hartford Courant, The New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. She now works for ESPN as a coordinating editor for ESPN’s universal news group, with an emphasis on baseball.

In an interview with Judy Woodruff on the PBS NewsHour, Smith was asked what had sparked her love of baseball. She replied:

Two words: Jackie Robinson.

I was a child when my mother told me that story. And in those two words, I thought, this is a great country. Anything is possible. And within this sport, this sport taught this country how to grow up and move on. It integrated 20-some years before the United States of America.

In addition to the work she has done as a trailblazer in journalism, Smith has taken time to give back. She has been active with the Association for Women in Sports Media and the National Association for Black Journalists in helping to mentor younger reporters.

And showing her genuine humility, when her award was announced at the meeting of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America this month, she invited all the women at the meeting — all five of them — to join her on stage.

Now that’s what we call a class act.

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