Claire Smith was in third grade, and the only black person in her class, the day her teacher showed “The Jackie Robinson Story” in the basement of St. James Elementary School in the Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park.
Smith’s mother, Bernice, had told her stories about Robinson. But the movie brought those stories to life.
“The movie was amazing because Ruby Dee played Rachel Robinson, but Jackie played himself,” Smith said. “I put a voice and a face to the legend. It was Hollywood and it was corny. But every time it’s on TV, I watch it.”
And it might have ignited a sports writing career that has carried Smith to the writer’s wing of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
“That story fascinated me,” she said. “It probably helped me, in some subconscious way, to want to be a storyteller and tell stories such as that.”
And 70 years after Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, Smith on Saturday was in Cooperstown, N.Y., as part of Hall of Fame weekend, receiving the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor for baseball writers. She is the fourth black writer to receive the honor, joining Wendell Smith, Sam Lacy and Larry Whiteside. But of the group of 68 journalists to be recognized by the Hall of Fame for “meritorious contributions to baseball writing,” Smith is the first woman.
She loves baseball, listening to Brooklyn Dodgers games on the radio as a child, and loves to write. And it led to an extraordinary career that began in 1982 and included stops at the Hartford Courant, New York Times and Philadelphia Enquirer, earning two Pulitzer Prize nominations along the way.
Thorough, thoughtful and courteous, Smith was well-received by her colleagues — and almost everyone she covered.
She tried to enter the Padres clubhouse after Game 1 of the 1984 NLCS. Several San Diego players shouted at her to leave, and a clubhouse attendant pushed on her back until she was out of the clubhouse. Padres first baseman Steve Garvey saw what happened and went outside to provide an emotional Smith some quotes. It forced then-Commissioner Peter Ueberroth to announce that all clubhouses would be open to women.
Smith points out that she was part of the second wave of female sportswriters, that the ones in the ’70s endured worse, and that she doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer. But she has been an inspiration to current and future baseball writers, and deserves to be honored along with inductees Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Pudge Rodriguez, John Schuerholz and Bud Selig.
By the way, there has been a proliferation of female baseball writers in recent years, and they all know about Claire Smith.
“Trailblazer?” she said. “I think I realize that there were a lot more people watching than I ever knew.”
Kansas City: The Royals batted .243 before the All-Star break with a .713 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS). Entering Friday, they were hitting .291 with a .818 OPS since then. That’s how the Royals have stormed by the Twins in the division, and now they have dealt for bullpen help as they take aim at Cleveland for the division lead.
Cleveland: Gloves can’t be gray or white but, somehow, Cleveland righthander Mike Clevinger has been pitching with a gray glove on his left hand. That was until Tuesday, when crew chief Bill Miller called him out on it. Clevinger switched gloves that night and will paint his glove black until a new one is shipped to him.
Detroit: Lefthander Daniel Norris should be getting valuable experience right now, but trying to be a tough guy has landed him on the disabled list. He had inflammation in his left hip labrum and a sore right quad but attempted to ignore it. That changed following a July 5 outing against San Francisco. “I was trying to pitch through it and I was digging a deeper hole each time,” said Norris, 4-7 with a 5.29 ERA.
Chicago: The White Sox clubhouse continues to see players come and go, as a full rebuild is in play. Chicago on Wednesday dealt righthander Anthony Swarzak, a former Twin, to Milwaukee. To replace him on the roster, the White Sox activated Faribault’s own Jake Petricka from the DL. It’s the second DL stint this season for Petricka, who had problems with his right elbow and right lat this season.
The 3-2 pitch
Three observations …
• The trade of John Ryan Murphy to the Diamondbacks appears to make the Murphy-for-Aaron Hicks swap look like a steal for the Yankees. But Hicks, once he comes off the disabled list, must prove he can sustain his early season offensive spurt.
• It was a pretty comprehensive sweep of the Twins by the Dodgers last week, but Los Angeles still needs another quality starter to get them to the World Series.
• Miguel Sano has been struggling, but he entered the weekend with a higher on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.751) than the Yankees’ Aaron Judge (.657). Home Run Derby hangover?
… and two predictions
• The Astros and Nationals will become the first teams since the 2009 Yankees to score more than 900 runs in a season, and the Rockies and Yankees will get close but fall short.
• The Twins will go 15-15 in August.
Baseball reporters La Velle E. Neal III and Phil Miller will alternate weeks. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twins blogs: startribune.com/twins