Claire Smith is first woman to win Hall of Fame's award for baseball writers

Big League Stew
Claire Smith is the first female winner of the Spinks award, baseball writing’s top honor. (AP Photo)
Claire Smith is the first female winner of the Spinks award, baseball writing’s top honor. (AP Photo)

The J.G. Taylor Spink award is given out every year by the Baseball Hall of Fame to a journalist for “meritorious contributions to baseball writing.” And in 2017, for the first time in its 55-year history, this top honor for baseball writers will be given out to a woman.

Claire Smith, the pioneering sports and baseball journalist, is the newest winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink award, which is voted on every year by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. When Smith was announced as the winner on Tuesday, she invited the other female members of the BBWAA up on stage.

Calling her a pioneer is more than appropriate, as Smith was the first African-American female newspaper journalist to cover baseball on a daily basis. She’s currently a coordinating editor for ESPN, with a focus on baseball. In the past, she was a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, a national columnist for the New York Times, and a reporter for the Hartford Courant.

Smith, an African-American woman in an industry that is heavily populated by white men, has had to battle the establishment for equal access throughout her career. In 1984 she was physically thrown out of the San Diego Padres clubhouse when she was trying to cover the National League Championship Series. She described the incident in an eloquent piece about her life on the website for the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism.

As I was being thrown out, by what I considered to be physically abusive behavior, I said I was told that I had permission to be in here, and Padres General Manager Jack McKeon, he was a gentleman, shrugged and said, ‘It’s Dick Williams’ clubhouse.’ […] As I remember being pushed through the door, here comes manager Dick Williams into the news conference area. I went up to him and said, ‘I was told that I had permission to be here, and Jack McKeon said that this is your clubhouse, so…’ and he said, ‘That’s right,’ and just kept walking.

In 2013 she received the first ever Sam Lacy-Wendell Smith award by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism, which is “given to a sports journalist who has made significant contributions to racial and gender equality in sports.” Smith definitely fits the bill. But she knew she wasn’t the only one who fought: when she wrote about the passing of trailblazing baseball writer Alison Gordon in 2015, Smith paid tribute to Gordon and other female baseball writers who helped open doors for all the women who would come after. She’s also been honored by the National Association of Black Journalists, the Association for Women in Sports Media, and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Smith will receive the award during Hall of Fame induction weekend, which will be held July 28-31, 2017 in Cooperstown, New York.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher

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