Named after the late editor of The Sporting News, the award has been presented during the Baseball Hall of Fame Weekend since 1962. It is voted upon by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), which is a group of nominees who are selected by the BBWAA Screening Committee in the previous year.
It makes sense that Smith would be the first woman to receive the Spink Award, as she was the first woman to ever be hired as a full-time baseball beat writer. She was hired in 1982 by the Hartford Courant to cover the New York Yankees, who she said, “hardly noticed me… because they were holding on for dear life.”
Claire Smith was the 68th recipient of the Spink Award, and the first woman to ever receive it. She shared her thoughts on what the award means to her and those like her at a Baseball Hall of Fame presentation.
“I humbly stand on stage for those who were stung by racism or sexism or any other insidious bias and persevered,” she said. “You are unbreakable. You make me proud.”
Smith faced many challenges in her more than 30 year career. What many consider her greatest hurdle came after she was kicked out of the San Diego Padres clubhouse, where she was trying to get quotes after a game. Unable to talk to the players, she got help from Steve Garvey, a Padres player, who fed her quotes from his teammates, and helped keep her in the loop.
“When he saw me being emotional after becoming manhandled,” she said, “he uttered the most important words an athlete ever said to me, ‘I will stay here as long as you need me to, but remember, you have a job to do.’”
“I had a game story to write,” she said in 1984. And write she did. The day after the incident, Major League Baseball said that no credentialed reporters could be denied access to the players.
“I knew it was a very important moment,” Garvey said, “and I knew she was a very deep soul.”
Smith’s brother said that the award was “a validation” of what he and the rest of Smith’s family already knew.
“Claire was always able to marry sport and societal issues,” he said. “It’s important that she is a woman and a person of color, but that’s not why she’s here. She’s here for her excellence.”
Claire continues to share her talents as a coordinating editor of baseball at ESPN, where she has worked since 2007.
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