Claire Smith. Photo by Charles Fox, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Blazing trails is a way of life for Claire Smith. Some things never change.

Smith is the winner of the 2023 Red Smith Award, regarded as the highest sports journalism honor in the United States. 

She is the first African American woman to win the award, given annually by the Associated Press Sports Editors to a writer or editor who has made major contributions to sports journalism. Smith is the sixth woman and fourth Black journalist to win the award. 

“There always has to be a first before you hand the baton, and when I see how many women are taking on the task of being great sports writers and editors, women of color, and Latin American women … it’s just heartening,” Smith said, upon learning from APSE President Jorge Rojas that she won the Red Smith Award. “I’m just so proud to be in their company. To be recognized and be in such great company … I certainly know I won’t be the last.

“We know there’s no crying in baseball, but there’s crying in my car today.”

Major contributions from Claire Smith? Where to even begin.

At the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July 2017, Smith received the BBWAA Career Excellence Award for her “meritorious contributions to baseball writing,” considered the highest honor in baseball writing. She was the first woman to win the award and just the second to be individually honored by the Hall of Fame. The first — Effa Manley, the Negro League owner of the Newark Stars — was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006, and Smith wrote extensively about her for The Philadelphia Inquirer at the time. Both Manley and Smith are Philadelphia natives.

Smith, 68, began her career at The Philadelphia Bulletin before heading to The Hartford Courant in 1982. In 1983, she became the first woman Major League Baseball beat writer, covering the New York Yankees.

During her time in Hartford, because she was a woman, Smith famously was physically pushed out of the Padres clubhouse before a 1984 National League Championship Series game between San Diego and the Chicago Cubs. Padres first baseman Steve Garvey stood up for her. So did Padres pitcher Rich “Goose” Gossage, who knew Smith from his time with the Yankees. So did new commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who declared that anyone with a proper credential was allowed in the clubhouse.

In 1990, Smith became The New York Times’ first national baseball columnist and the second national baseball columnist in the country, holding that position for eight years. She moved on to The Inquirer in 1998, where she served as an assistant sports editor and columnist until 2007. She then worked at ESPN from 2007 to 2021.

A graduate of Temple University, Smith returned to her alma mater in July 2021 as an assistant professor with the Klein School of Media and Communications.

Smith was a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and the inaugural winner, in 2013, of the Sam Lacy-Wendell Smith Award for the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland, given to a journalist “who has made significant contributions to racial and gender equality in sports.” 

Other milestones included being named the Sports Journalist of the Year from the National Association of Black Journalists in 1997, the Mary Garber Pioneer Award from the Association for Women in Sports Media (2000), the Sam Lacy Award at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (2010) and SABR’s Dorothy Seymour Mills Lifetime Achievement Award (2021). In October 2021, Smith was named as a member of the NABJ Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021. 

Smith was the New York chapter chair for the BBWAA in 1995 and ’96 and has served on three Hall of Fame Era committees.

Smith will be honored at the annual APSE summer conference July 9-12 at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Red Smith Award recipients are enshrined at the APSE Red Smith Hall of Fame, located at the Indiana University National Sports Journalism Center in downtown Indianapolis.

The award is voted on by Red Smith Award winners, APSE past presidents, APSE national officers, 10-year APSE members and alumni members who belonged to APSE for at least 15 years.

Smith received 147 points, based on a 5-3-1 system for first-, second- and third-place votes. Bill Plaschke was second with 100 points and Tom Boswell was third with 75.

The five journalists who finished behind Smith in the voting are automatically nominated for next year’s award. They are Plaschke, Boswell, Mark Whicker, Garry D. Howard and Bill Lyon.