Among those let go by ESPN in the network’s latest wave of layoffs is Claire Smith, the first woman to win the Baseball Writers Association of America’s J.G. Spink Award.
Put another way, ESPN laid off a writer whose work is permanently recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Spink Award winners aren’t inducted in the Hall of Fame, per se, but are included in an exhibit at the Cooperstown museum.) In addition to being the first woman to earn the Spink Award, Smith was also the fourth African American to receive the honor from the BBWAA.
Given for “meritorious contributions to baseball writing,” Smith, 66, was recognized for her work in 2017. She was baseball’s first female beat reporter, covering the New York Yankees for the Hartford Courant from 1983 to 1987. During her career, Smith was also a columnist for the New York Times, and an editor and columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
For her first baseball story, Smith covered Pete Rose passing Stan Musial for first place on the National League’s all-time hits list. As she mentioned in a tweet following news of her layoff, Smith was close to 40 years of baseball coverage during her career.
In 1981, I wrote a sidebar at a @Phillies game— my first baseball byline. Wanted to reach a 40th season of coverage, but heck, if 39 was good enough for Campy, it’s good enough for me. I thank @ESPN & the amazing friends/family there for an extraordinary 13 years. I ? you all.
— Claire Smith ⚾️ (@MzCSmith) November 6, 2020
Subsequently honored by The Jackie Robinson Foundation, Smith paid tribute to those who broke barriers before her (though she was far too modest in recognizing how much of a pioneer she was in her profession).
“Being kicked out of a locker room one day in my 35-year career, that’s just a tiny little misstep,” Smith said, referring to a 1984 incident in which she was asked to leave the San Diego Padres’ clubhouse.
“That is not trial, that is not tribulation. It is nothing at all compared to what Mom and Dad, Jackie and Rachel (Robinson), and all the folks that came before them and alongside of them went through. What do I possibly have to gripe about? Absolutely nothing.”
At ESPN, Smith was a news editor for remote productions, responsible for working news and analysis into live game broadcasts and the network’s studio shows such as SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight. She was among 300 layoffs by the work, in addition to 200 open positions that won’t be filled, resulting in 500 jobs that were eliminated.
ESPN veteran Bob Ley was highly critical of the company following the dismissals, especially those let go after distinguished careers in journalism.
Trying to remain objective and unemotional as I learn of the @espn team members laid off today. Not possible. Not as I see countless decades of journalistic experience, and expertise jettisoned. Just when we need it most. Enjoy the DIS stock price and your NFL football.
— Bob Ley (@BobLeyESPN) November 5, 2020
Another longtime ESPN writer included among the layoffs was Ivan Maisel, who produced columns, features, and TV pieces for the network during a nearly 20-year tenure.
I came to work at ESPN 18 years ago today, on Nov. 5, 2002, as the first college football writer at https://t.co/01M4kGwztH. On the day that my employment became an adult, ESPN informed me that upon expiration of my contract on Jan. 31, I will no longer be working here. 1/
— Ivan Maisel (@Ivan_Maisel) November 5, 2020
There has to be a place in the current sports media landscape for someone as accomplished as Smith, whether as a writer or behind the scenes as an editor. MLB certainly appears to be a suitable landing spot for her, writing features for the MLB.com website, editing studio shows for MLB Network, or perhaps taking a role in the increasing number of documentaries that the network has produced in recent years.
At the very least, Smith should get the opportunity to decide on her terms when her pioneering career is over.