Claire Smith had no problems going into American League locker rooms while covering baseball for the Hartford Courant during the mid-eighties. In the National League, however, rules varied depending on the team. Smith was thrown out of the San Diego Padres’ locker room while covering the 1984 championship series — despite assurances from the league president. In the 2013 ESPN documentary “Let Them Wear Towels,” Smith and other women sports reporters discuss their experiences in breaking down gender barriers.
“How do you handle it?” Smith said of the awkward environment during 2013 interview pegged to the release of the ESPN documentary Let Them Wear Towels. “That’s the question.”
For handling such sexism with dignity and finesse and doing an exemplary job covering sports, Smith will be honored during the National Baseball Hall of Fame Weekend as the first woman to receive the highest honor for a baseball writer. She will be the 68th recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, named for an editor of the Sporting News known as the “Baseball Bible.”
Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America gave Smith a standing ovation when her name was announced yesterday, according to ESPN, where she is a coordinating editor for the universal news group. She asked the handful of women there to join her as she thanked “the guys that stood up to the athletes and teams and said that we are your peers and we deserve to be treated like you.”
“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,” Smith added. “No one does this by themselves.”
Smith spent a quarter-century writing about sports, including two decades covering Major League Baseball. Before joining ESPN, she was a sports writer for the New York Times, Philadelphia Bulletin, Hartford Courant and Philadelphia Inquirer. She is the author “Don Baylor: Nothing But The Truth, a Baseball Life.”
“She is such an inspiration as she continues to knock down doors for women in sports journalism,” Sarah Glover, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, said in a statement. “She is to be commended not only for being a talented reporter, but also for being steadfast in fighting for equality and paving a way for those who will follow in her footsteps.”
After fighting to keep women sports writers like Smith out of major league clubhouses, former MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn later called her “the best baseball writer in America.”
Besides the forthcoming Hall of Fame recognition, Smith’s other honors include awards from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, NABJ, MLB.com and the University of Maryland as the first recipient of the Sam Lacy-Wendell Smith Award from the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism for her contributions to gender and racial equality in sports.
Marc Spears, chair of the NABJ Sports Task Force, said that Smith is “a pioneer not only for women and blacks in baseball, but in sports period.”