Pioneering sports journalist, Claire Smith, an Ellington resident who broke barriers by becoming the first female beat writer in Major League Baseball and the first woman to receive the prestigious J.G. Taylor Spink Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, has added another accolade to her amazing resume.
Smith is one of 13 women depicted on a pylon created for the International Women’s Baseball Center’s (IWBC) future outdoor museum in Rockford, Illinois. A rendering of the pylon, featuring African American women who have made an impact in baseball, was recently unveiled at the SABR/IWBC Women in Baseball Conference, hosted virtually by Rockford University.
Alongside Smith are Effa Manley, the only woman inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame; Toni Stone, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson and Connie Morgan, the only three women to play at the highest level of the otherwise all-male Negro Leagues; team owners Hilda Bolden-Shorter and Olivia Taylor; modern era players Mo’ne Davis, Tamara Holmes and Malaika Underwood; MLB executive Jacara Ware; agent Lonnie Murray; and sportswriter Shakeia Taylor.
Manley, who operated the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues, was also an early activist in the Civil Rights Movement, serving as treasurer of the Newark chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1939, she conducted an anti-lynching day at the Eagles’ ballpark, supporting efforts to pass federal anti-lynching legislation.
In an interview with Patch Wednesday, Smith referred to Manley as “my hero. She saw things in her era that we’re still dealing with today. That [anti-lynching] bill has stalled in Congress, and has never been passed.”
On her Facebook page, Smith wrote, “To be mentioned along side any single one is an honor. Thank you, IWBC and SABR for including me in this special salute. Humbled.”
Smith, who will receive the President’s Award from the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance on May 2, 2021, worked for the Hartford Courant as beat writer for the New York Yankees from 1983 to 1987. During the 1984 National League playoffs at Wrigley Field in Chicago, she was physically removed from the San Diego Padres’ clubhouse following the opening game, despite a league rule requiring equal access to all properly accredited journalists. San Diego All-Star first baseman Steve Garvey left the clubhouse and granted Smith an interview; the following day, a new rule requiring equal access to all major league locker rooms was declared by MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth.
Following her tenure at the Courant, Smith was a columnist for the New York Times from 1991 to 1998, then an editor and columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1998 to 2007. She is currently a news editor for ESPN.
In 2017, Smith was presented the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, created by the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1962 in honor of the late publisher of the Sporting News. Awarded in recognition of meritorious contributions to baseball, Smith became the first woman and fourth African American to be accorded the baseball writers’ highest honor.
Smith said, “It’s been kind of a fairy tale since 2017. The idea that it continues is surprising and sweet, but it reminds me there’s still work to do.”
She said she is invited to speak at numerous college campuses, and she is impressed with the young students who want to follow in her footsteps in the ever-changing world of sports media.
“It’s a hard industry, paring down to bare minimum to try and save entities like newspapers and magazines,” she said. “These kids want to find new ways of communication. The news will always be there; they just need to find new methods, as the old methods are falling by the wayside.”