As we wrote in Sunday media column, Claire Smith seized a moment that was much bigger than herself Saturday in Cooperstown, N.Y.
The first woman in the 55-year-history of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award, having to wait behind the 67 men honored before her, and also the fourth African American ever acknowledged by the Baseball Writers Association of America for “meritorious contributions to baseball writing,” Smith dropped a Yogi Berra line right at the start of her 20-minute speech: “I want to thank you for making this day necessary.”
After rising from a seat at the dais next to Rachel Robinson, Smith used a measured, reverential tone in naming off some of previous winners such as Damond Ruynon and Grantland Rice, and exclaimed that “those were such wordsmiths. Me, I’m just named Smith.”
Others, like Melissa Ludtke, would disagree.
In 1978, as a reporter for Sports Illustrated, Ludtke got on the national journalism radar by successfully suing the New York Yankees, Major League Baseball and commissioner Bowie Kuhn for the right to enter the locker room to do her work during the 1977 Dodgers-Yankees World Series.
Reporters like Mary Garber and Elinor Kaine fought those sort of access battles as well. In L.A., women reporters making strides in that area included Tracy Dodds, Diane K. Shaw and Lisa Nehus Saxon (as she explained as much to us recently). They were followed by Jane Gross, Melanie Hauser and Mary Schmidt.
Claire Smith was added to the list of those who have been humiliated in the past by archaic rules involving women reporters, as her 1984 incident during the NLCS finally led to commissioner Peter Ueberroth ordering access be granted to everyone with a credential. But that shouldn’t define her career.
Smith once called all those other women “trailblazers who, like Jackie Robinson, changed perceptions in the workplace and in life in extraordinary fashion just by insisting they be treated in ordinary but fair fashion,” writing in a 1999 piece entitled: “Women Sportswriters Confront New Issues: No longer focused on locker room access, work and family challenges prevail”