LAS VEGAS -- Mentors are awesome. They encourage, enrich and enlighten. They make your journey a little bit easier and a lot more enjoyable. And if you were like me, a young aspiring baseball writer in the Philadelphia market, it was as if you won the mentor lottery in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
That point has been validated over and over again in recent years as writer after writer with connections to our city has won the prestigious J.G. Taylor Spink Award. It happened again Tuesday morning at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Surrounded by his peers, former Inquirer baseball writer extraordinaire Jayson Stark was announced as this year’s winner of the Spink Award, which was voted upon by fellow members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
I had the added benefit on election eve to sit across from Stark during a dinner at Vetri Cucina, an Italian restaurant atop the Palms Hotel that was recently opened by Philadelphia native Marc Vetri. It was clear that Jayson was equally nervous and excited about what was about to happen, and with good reason.
The Spink Award means he will be honored on the final weekend of July at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the same weekend that some of the game’s greatest playing legends will be inducted as the class of 2019. It is so fitting and so deserved because I do not think I know anybody who loves the game more than Jayson Stark.
He has always had the ability to look at the game from the silly side and the serious side. He revealed the game’s most ridiculous events and statistics for 16 years in his syndicated Baseball Week in Review column. I once read that column in the Anchorage Times during a vacation in Alaska.
But he also deftly tackled labor strife, steroids issues and trade discussions. Read him and you could not help but learn. Talk to him and you could not help but be thankful for his kindness and encouragement.
For me, he also made a decision that changed my life. When he left the Inquirer to work at ESPN near the end of the 20th century, it opened the door for me to become a baseball writer at the newspaper at the start of the 21st century. Stark, 67, continued to cover baseball at ESPN through April 2017 and earlier this year joined The Athletic.
The way I feel about Stark is the same way I feel about former Daily News baseball writer Paul Hagen, who helped me as a young writer more than anybody in the business, and Claire Smith, who offered her kind guidance when she was a columnist and editor at the Inquirer. Hagen won the Spink Award in 2013, and Smith received the honor in 2017.
Mentors are awesome and, at least in my case, they are Hall of Famers, too.