My Life As: Claire Smith

By Korinne Utting

Over the course of Claire Smith’s 30-year career covering baseball, she’s only had one bad day.

Smith inherited her love of baseball from her parents, especially her mother. The Brooklyn Dodgers were her family’s favorite team — they loved the story of Jackie Robinson, and his love story with his wife, Rachel Robinson. Smith even remembers seeing a movie about Robinson’s life in the basement of her elementary school when she was in the third grade.

“My parents had as much fight in them as Jackie and Rachel, and they would instill that fight in us by storytelling,” said Smith, who spoke at the School of Journalism’s My Life As Speaker Series on Nov. 7.

She chose to go to Penn State for college, but dropped out because she didn’t know what she wanted to do long-term. So, Smith worked in customer service and retail, until she went back to Temple University to get a degree in public relations. It was there that she had to take a journalism class, and realized that she wanted to write about baseball.

“God’s honest truth is I didn’t know if I could do it or not,” Smith said.

From 1983 to 1987, Smith covered the New York Yankees for The Hartford Courant as the first ever female Major League Baseball beat writer. She recalled working with an editor at The Courant who wouldn’t let her fail, and eight years later, she became a national baseball writer for The New York Times.

Now, back to Smith’s bad day. In 1984, while she was covering the first game of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field, the San Diego Padres removed her from the visitors’ clubhouse, even though she had gone in with dozens of other reporters.

Smith was removed because she was a woman.

“All hell broke loose,” Smith said. “I was stunned. You don’t really ever expect your peers to stop what they’re doing and form a protest.”

None of the other reporters did anything to help stop Smith from being shoved out of the clubhouse.

A player from San Diego, Steve Garvey, left the clubhouse and found an emotional Smith in the tunnel. He told her that he would stay with her for as long as she needed, and give her an interview, but reminded her that she had a job to do.

“It was very traumatic, and the trauma continued for a very long time,” Smith said. When she went back to cover spring training the next season, she was still nervous. “You can outlaw clubs from blocking the door, but you can’t outlaw stupid.”

With aging parents and a teenage son, Smith moved back to Pennsylvania and created her own blog.

“I wrote what I wanted to write when I wanted to write it,” Smith said.

Editors kept reaching out to Smith and asked if they could use what she had written in their papers. Eventually, she found her way back to baseball writing in 2007 when she became an editor for baseball news at ESPN. She’s been there ever since.

Photo by Nicholas Musumeci 

Video by Aleeza Kazmi