NATIONAL HARBOR — ESPN's Claire Smith, who helped blaze the trail for the first generation of female baseball writers, became the first woman and fourth African-American to win the prestigious J.G. Taylor Spink Award by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Smith will have a permanent place in the writers and broadcasters section of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, where she will be honored next July along with Hall of Fame inductees Allan H. "Bud" Selig, John Schuerholz and any players who gain admission during this year's BBWAA Hall of Fame election.
Few women regularly covered baseball when Smith produced her first baseball story for the Philadelphia Bulletin in 1982, writing the fan reaction feature on the night that Pete Rose broke Stan Musial's National League career hits record.
Smith, along with her fellow female sportswriters at that time, faced heavy and sometimes nasty resistance from athletes and coaches as they fought for equal access to professional and college locker rooms.
Her ejection from the San Diego Padres clubhouse during the 1984 playoffs led to sweeping changes in the way Major League Baseball enforced equal clubhouse access.
Upon the honor being announced Tuesday morning at the BBWAA's annual December meeting, Smith called up all of the female BBWAA members in attendance to stand with her and then thanked the male baseball writers in attendance for standing with them during that difficult period.
"I want to thank you as well as the women who walked the walk and fought the battles and got all of us to this point," she said. "No one does this by themselves.''
Smith would go from her first job at the Bucks County Courier Times to the Bulletin and the Hartford Courant. She also was a columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times, and is currently a coordinating editor for ESPN's universal news group.
She has won numerous other awards, including the Legacy Award from the National Association of Black Journalists, the Mary Garber Pioneer Award from the Association of Women in Sports Media and Sam Lacy Legacy Award from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
The previous African-Americans to win the Spink Award were Wendell Smith, Baltimore Afro-American legend Sam Lacy and Larry Whiteside.