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Claire Smith proves nice guys (and women) make the Hall of Fame

Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum via AP

We’ve learned two things over the past 71 years since the aphorism “Nice guys finish last” was attributed to former Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher.

The first thing is, Durocher didn’t say it, or at least not in that way. The second thing is, even if he did, it’s not true.

And we don’t have to go further than a baseball stadium to prove that.

Over the weekend, Claire Smith received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award from the Baseball Writers Association of America.

The recognition is tantamount to enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame and is presented annually to a person who has provided meritorious service to the profession of baseball writer..

It says here, and in a number of clubhouses and press boxes from coast to coast that the baseball writers couldn’t have made a better choice.

Smith’s 35-year career has taken her from the Hartford Courant to the New York Times to the Philadelphia Inquirer to her current post, an editor at ESPN.

Along the way, she has covered the big names, the big games and the big issues in baseball, and all with characteristic skill and aplomb.

A Claire Smith game story is a thing of beauty, a map that takes the reader to all the important points of the contest with incisive and illuminating commentary from the key players and managers.

On top of it all, Claire Smith is as gentle a soul as you’re likely to encounter. Her smile is ever-present and it’s entirely possible that she has never raised her voice in anger or in boastfulness, or at least not in public.

Her calm demeanor and humility stand as an important counterpoint in an era of sports media where the loudest are often the first and where informing the audience takes a back seat to entertaining the audience.

Smith received the Spink Award this weekend during the annual Hall induction of players, executives and managers.

This year’s class includes catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and first baseman Jeff Bagwell, players whose careers coincide with baseball’s steroid era, a time when the use of performance-enhancing drugs was thought to be rampant.

Bagwell and Rodriguez are joined in Cooperstown by former Commissioner Bud Selig, who has been knocked for presiding over the sport during said steroid era.

Selig has been thought, by some, to have turned a blind eye to performance-enhancing drug usage, making his induction a sore spot for some.

There’s no such controversy surrounding Claire Smith, who becomes the 78th person and first female writer to receive the Spink Award.

It’s fitting that she received her distinction at the same time that baseball was honoring Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, the first black to play in the majors.

Smith, who is also African-American, would tell you that her contributions to baseball and society are not as significant as those of Jackie Robinson’s, and she might be right.

But she certainly has knocked down barriers for a generation of women who are just as capable of telling stories of America’s pastime as men.

Claire Smith proves that nice women not only don’t finish last, they win awards.

And that’s how I see it for this week. 

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.