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 Damon Runyon and Grantland Rice, and exclaimed that “those were such wordsmiths. Me, I’m just named Smith.”
But there’s nothing common about how the 63-year-old had basked in this late afternoon summer day.
Start with: How did a shy, young girl growing up in Philadelphia decide the Dodgers were entry into baseball and make her a life-long fan?
Smith was the daughter of a Jamaican immigrant born in New York City but sent back to the island for health reasons, so that she could be raised by a grandmother known as a healer in the country village.
“And in that hamlet they occupied, they lived the American dream, and one of their pastimes was to listen to American sports on the short-wave radio,” Smith recalled a couple of days before Saturday’s honor. “They would listen to the Joe Louis fights, or Jesse Owens’ accomplishments.”
Her mother returned to the U.S. in her teens as World War II broke out, but only by accident. She intended to go to England for schooling but her ship was rerouted and she landed instead in Philadelphia.
By 1947, the presence of Jackie Robinson in a Dodgers uniform made a life-long impact. Sports created change, and that profound idea was passed on to her children.
“So I doubt I had a choice but to inherit the Dodgers,” Smith said with a laugh….