May 30, 2023

Claire Smith Joins 'Mount Olympus' List As Historic Red Smith Winner

Julian Basena

Claire Smith, the 2023 Red Smith award winner, has joined what she calls the “Mount Olympus’’ of sports writers. “As a baseball writer, you kind of grow into the job and you think of the possibilities. What I never ever dreamed of was being honored with the Red Smith award,” she said, “because that’s the Mount Olympus in terms of the writers who’ve received it.”

In a career full of firsts, Smith is the first African American woman to win the Red Smith award, the highest honor in sports journalism APSE gives annually to a writer or editor who has made  significant contributions to the field. She is also the sixth woman and fourth Black journalist to win the award.

While working at the Hartford Courant in 1983, Smith became the nation’s first woman major league baseball beat writer. She covered the Yankees for the Courant until 1987, then moved on to The New York Times as national baseball columnist.

Smith, who also worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer and ESPN, was the inaugural winner of the Sam Lacy-Wendell Smith Award at the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland in 2013. In 2017, Smith became the first woman to receive the BBWAA Career Excellence Award at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In 2021, she was inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame.

“She's definitely a hero because she's my hero,” said Lisa Wilson, APSE’s first-ever African-American female president. “And I'm sure she’s a hero for so many other journalists — especially for black women.”

Some of Smith’s earliest successes came at a time when women sportswriters were often not welcomed in the industry. Smith was once removed from a clubhouse while covering the 1984 National League Championship Series between the San Diego Padres and the Chicago Cubs. Famously, Padres first baseman Steve Garvey and pitcher Rich Gossage stood up for her in the aftermath. In support of Smith and future women journalists, MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth declared any credentialed reporter is allowed into Major League clubhouses in a statement following the incident.

Jon Pessah, a friend and former editor of Smith at the Courant, said her Red Smith award is a sign of hope. “In times that are as difficult as today, it’s a bright spot,” Pessah said. “It gives you a little bit of hope that we’re going in the right direction.”

Smith’s most recent stop has been at her alma mater, Temple University. She works as an assistant professor of the Klein School of Media and Communications and the founding director of the Claire Smith Center for Sports Media at Temple, an emerging sports journalism program named for her.

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