COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — In being honored along with some of the greatest baseball writers of all time, Claire Smith has gotten to realize how much others have benefited from her remarkable career path.

That was one of the conclusions that came with her honor Saturday when Smith was presented the J.G. Taylor Spink Award. The ceremony took place on a picture-perfect day, weather in the low 70s and low humidity at fabled Doubleday Field, down the street from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The award, voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America, goes to a writer (or writers) for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.

In earning the Spink Award, Smith blazed yet another trail.

Smith, 64, is the first female and fourth African American winner of the award, joining Wendell Smith in 1993, Sam Lacey in 1997, and Larry Whiteside in 2008.

It's only fitting because, in 1982, she was hired by the Hartford Courant to cover the New York Yankees. She became the first woman to be a full-time baseball beat writer.

And since she was announced as the Spink Award winner in December, Smith, modest almost to a fault, has begun to see the impact she has had on others.

"Many of the youngsters spoke of research papers and articles they have written about me, and somehow they were lining up to thank me for somehow inspiring them," Smith said in her speech. "Talk about missing the lead. Somehow I must have touched something within these youngsters, and I never knew it."
She knows it now.

It should come as no surprise that Smith, a Neshaminy High and Temple graduate and former sports columnist and editor at the Inquirer, knocked it out of the park with a mesmerizing speech that lasted 17 minutes, 34 seconds.

"I was really nervous," she said afterward. "I just held it in."

Nobody would have known she felt any nerves. She delivered her speech with elegance and confidence.

"She was phenomenal," said BBWAA president Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post, who introduced Smith. "She was gentle but so strong. She is such a pioneer."

Even though it went over the suggested 10-minute mark for speeches, nobody complained.

Smith wrote the speech to her son, Joshua, 30, weaving in different aspects of her career while speaking to him. She got the idea when he asked her one day what the award meant to her.

Needless to say, the son was blown away by his mother.

"I didn't know it would happen, but it was beautiful," he said. "I was amazed."

Also honored  Saturday were the late Bill King, winner of the 2017 Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters, and Rachel Robinson, winner of the 2017 Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.

It was fitting that the wife of Jackie Robinson was honored alongside Smith. After being introduced to the exploits of Jackie Robinson by her mother,  Smith began her  life-long love affair with the game.

Smith mentioned in her speech an incident that has been well-documented, about being kicked out of a locker room attempting to get postgame quotes during a 1984 playoff game. She was shown the door for simply being a female.

San Diego Padres first baseman Steve Garvey came out of the clubhouse and  gave Smith all the quotes she needed for her story. His advice was lasting.

"When he saw me being emotional after becoming manhandled, he uttered the most important words an athlete ever said to me," Smith said in her speech. Garvey said, "I will stay here as long as you need me to, but remember, you have a job to do."

That elicited huge applause. It also changed policy. The next day Major League Baseball said no credentialed reporters should be denied access.

Garvey was on hand Saturday to see his friend honored.

"I am [living] in California, and I told Claire I would be here for her and her family and everything she stands for and who she is as a person and the celebration of her life as a journalist," Garvey said.

Smith began her career at the Bucks County Courier Times, then went to  the Philadelphia Bulletin before being hired at the Courant. She then became the national baseball writer for the New York Times  before being hired at the Inquirer as a sports columnist in 1998.

Since 2007, she has been coordinating editor of baseball at ESPN.

This was a day she got to share with so many who she cares about, especially her son.

"I was speechless that she was talking to me in that speech," Josh said. "I kind of teared up a little bit."

He wasn't the only one.

Finally, as Smith neared the  conclusion, she  answered her son's question about  what this day, this honor, meant to her.

"As to your question, what does this mean?" she said. "It means the world to me. Thank you."