It was before that, during her years with The Hartford Courant as a pioneering, full-time female baseball beat writer covering the Yankees, that Smith met the most resistance from players and officials. But not from that era’s tumultuous Yanks, she said with a laugh. “They hardly noticed me,” she said, “because they were holding on for dear life.”
Instead, her greatest challenge came from the San Diego Padres during their 1984 playoff series against the Chicago Cubs. She was ejected from the clubhouse, then rescued by an empathetic Padres player, Steve Garvey, who fed her quotes from his teammates.
But Smith was no damsel in distress; she had an unbending professionalism about her that wore down even the most stubborn resistance.
“I had a game story to write,” she said in 1984, after she had been pushed out the Padres’ door.
Other pioneers in the sport — including Sandy Koufax, the Jewish Dodgers pitcher who refused to play on Yom Kippur during the World Series; Frank Robinson, the first black manager in the major leagues; and Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson — gave her a standing ovation Saturday.
The most heartfelt moment at the ceremony arrived when Smith introduced Garvey in the audience, thanking him for his help all those years ago.
“I knew it was a very important moment,” Garvey said after the ceremony. “And I knew she was a very deep soul.”
Smith’s brother, Hawthorne, called the award — bestowed a day before the Hall welcomes five new members: Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, the former commissioner Bud Selig and the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves executive John Schuerholz — “a validation” of what her 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.”
In her speech, which she directed to her son Joshua, Smith cited previous winners of the Spink award, including Ring Lardner, Damon Runyan and Grantland Rice.
“Those are wordsmiths,” she insisted, humbly. “Me, I’m just named Smith.”