“Perhaps reporters of color heard of a time when there were no reporters who looked like them. They listened to my story, and hopefully realized that while present-day may not be perfect, times ain’t what they used to be.” Claire Smith, the 68th recipient of the J. G. Taylor Spink Award
Claire Smith is the first woman to be recognized in the writers’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Smith was awarded the J.C. Taylor Spink Award, which is known as the highest honor to receive for sports journalism.
For years, female reporters were denied access to the press box. Once they broke that barrier, they continued to be unable to enter the locker room, while most male baseball writers were securing highly coveted quotes and interviews.
Approximately 91 percent of columnists and 86 percent of reporters are men, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. When Smith began reporting, she was rare.
“It’s been amazing getting a sense that what I did wasn’t in as much of a vacuum as I thought”
She covered the New York Yankees from 1983 to 1987 as the first female Major League Baseball beat writer, working for the Hartford Courant. During the 1984 National League Championship Series, in what Smith describes as her “one really bad day” on the job, she was denied access to the San Diego Padres locker room.
Smith states, “That incident did stay with me for a while. For a couple of years, it made it very hard each spring to walk through the clubhouse door on the first day of spring training on teams where I didn’t know the players….I hope it’s not what people think of when they say my name.”
While Smith has encountered some tribulations within her career, she still strives to work hard in a field that has a little representation of women, especially women of color. Smith’s acceptance speech in Cooperstown was memorable and informative at most. She discussed very little about her many accomplishments and focused primarily on her background and support system that has helped her reach this point of her life. Smith talked highly of her mother in which she says, “For years after, I typed and dreamed. And, like Mom, I developed a deep love for baseball — and the Dodgers — as her heroes, Jackie and Rachel, became mine! Mom, we were always on the same page. … almost. Except for that one day back in the early 1960s.”
Smith has opened a new door for women in sports journalism to simply walk in. She says her legacy is the long line of women who have followed in her footsteps, and those who have yet to come. “It’s been amazing getting a sense that what I did wasn’t in as much of a vacuum as I thought,” she says.