At some point in February, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America is expected to announce the voting results on a proposal to remove J.G. Taylor Spink’s name from the organization’s most prestigious member award, which has been given to writers “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing” since 1962. The winners are part of the annual Induction Weekend at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and have a special place in the museum. Spink, publisher of The Sporting News from 1914 to 1962, was the award’s first recipient, shortly after his death.
Sporting News fully supports the proposal to remove Spink’s name. I have worked at Sporting News since 2005 and been a BBWAA member since 2006, and I will vote to remove the name; so will SN’s two other BBWAA members: Jason Foster (member since 2016) and Joe Rivera (2018).
Spink was the publisher of the largest, most powerful baseball publication in the country for nearly half a century, and he used that position to strongly advocate against the integration of the sport. In the decades before Jackie Robinson’s debut, Spink largely ignored the Negro Leagues and its players and used his publication to sustain negative — and untrue — stereotypes of not just Negro League ballplayers, but also Black Americans in general.
This decision isn’t made lightly, or without considerable research, reflection and conversation. Spink’s uncle (Al) and father (Charles) founded the company that Jason, Joe and I work for now. Taylor Spink took over as publisher of The Sporting News after Charles’ death in 1914 and held the role until his own passing in 1962. Under his direction, The Sporting News became the unquestioned best source of baseball information, from the National and American Leagues all the way down to the lowest levels of Organized Baseball.
Few people in the sport — maybe a couple of star players, a handful of owners and the league presidents — had as much influence and clout as Spink. The Sporting News was known around the world as “The Bible of Baseball,” a title no one challenged.
The truth, though?
For far too long, Spink’s Sporting News was “The Bible of White Baseball.”
I have spent the past month digging through The Sporting News archives — which are available on Paper of Record and free with a subscription to the Society of American Baseball Research — and what I found was racist language, ugly stereotypes and derogatory portrayals of Negro League players and other Black Americans during Spink’s time as publisher, especially in the era before Jackie Robinson made his MLB debut in 1947.
In September 2020, BBWAA members overwhelmingly voted to remove the name of Kennesaw Mountain Landis — the MLB commissioner from 1920 to 1944 who vowed that baseball would never integrate on his watch — from the MVP award. Now, we will vote on a similar proposal regarding the Spink award.
A little background: The Spink award was created as a way to honor the career of a publisher who helped baseball become America’s Pastime with a spot in the Hall of Fame. And on that basis, he absolutely deserved the honor. He was a titan in the industry, leading the most influential sports-specific publication in the history of the country to that point. But his overall legacy, one that has for too long been glossed over, including by Sporting News, is far less positive.
The Spink name should not be on the BBWAA’s highest member honor.
“This is a teachable moment. As we see these symbols of hate come down, it’s not just enough to tear them down,” Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, told me. “You now have to explain to generations to come: Why?
“You’re not trying to change history. History occurred. It is what it is. But this is about growth from that history, and acknowledging and trying to be better and help society continue to progress.”
So that’s our goal with this piece. Not just to say that Spink had his faults and not just to advocate for changing the name, but also to pull back the curtain on our own history during the Spink era and start an honest conversation about not only what was and wasn’t written in the pages of TSN during Spink’s time as publisher, but why that was unacceptable.
“My hope,” said Claire Smith, the longtime baseball scribe who won the Spink award in 2017, “is this will be the era when we shed enough light on the subject of race and the influence of media, of sports, of politics and all, that we can shed enough light to reveal what we’ve hidden away in shadows but have always known was there.
“We need to know. We need to see it. We need to see the physical proof of that. Were the reporters responsible? Yeah. But was the publisher more responsible? Absolutely.”
Spink’s 1942 anti-integration editorial
Spink made his opinion on integration abundantly clear with an editorial in the Aug. 6, 1942, issue of The Sporting News. The headline: “No good from raising the race issue”.
This was Spink’s line in the sand. His publication had hinted at his views for years, sometimes subtly but often overtly, and this was his moment to state his views clearly. Here’s how it started:
There is no law against Negros playing with white teams, nor whites with colored clubs, but neither has invited the other for the obvious reason they prefer to draw their talent from their own ranks and because the leaders of both groups know their crowd psychology and do not care to run the risk of damaging their own game.
That’s a rather reprehensible start. In the first half of the very first sentence, Spink places equal blame on Negro Leagues for not inviting white ballplayers to play for their teams. And then he quickly shifts blame to the baseball-watching public.
It is not difficult to imagine what would happen if a player on a mixed team, performing before a crowd of the opposite color, should throw a bean ball, strike out with the bases loaded or spike a rival. Clear-minded men of tolerance of both races realize the tragic possibilities and have steered clear of such complications, because they realize it is to the benefit of each and also the game.
Spink goes on to attempt to paint his advocacy for baseball’s continued segregation as somehow charitable.
It would be a staggering blow should (Negro Leagues’) leading players be drawn into the majors and, with them, its fan support. It is doubtful the colored game should survive. Instead of gaining anything, Negro baseball would lose everything.
And then, this.
Of course, there are some colored people who take a different view, and they are entitled to their opinions, but in doing so they are not looking at the question from the broader point of view, or for the ultimate good of either the race or the individuals in it. They ought to concede their own people are now protected and that nothing is served by allowing agitators to make an issue of a question on which both sides would prefer to be left alone.
This attitude of supreme racial superiority — you should believe what we say is best for you — is reflective of how Spink’s publication had addressed Black Americans for decades.
It’s important to understand The Sporting News’ impact on baseball in that era.
Under Charles Spink, TSN had helped Ban Johnson establish the American League in 1901 as a major league on par with the National League. Sporting Life was a rival publication through the late 1880s and 1890s, but when it folded in 1917, Taylor Spink’s TSN was left alone as the only voice in the national baseball conversation. The company’s decision to send free issues to troops overseas during World War I established a large and loyal following.
The only way for baseball fans to see what was happening outside their local newspaper’s coverage area was to subscribe to The Sporting News. There is no modern equivalent to TSN’s power and influence in the world of sports journalism, simply because back then there were no other options.
“The Sporting News was unique. It was THE baseball weekly. There was no competition,” official MLB historian John Thorn told me in a recent phone conversation. “Thus, because everybody read it — everybody in the business and every serious fan — it had undue influence on the game. The Sporting News really held sway for half a century.”
So when Spink used his voice to campaign against the integration of Major League Baseball, using short-sighted arguments and false equivalencies, he did real harm to not only the cause of Negro League ballplayers but also Black Americans in general. And it wasn’t just that one editorial. He doubled down, often.
In the Nov. 1, 1945, issue, shortly after the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson and announced he would play for Montreal in the International League, TSN accused Branch Rickey of making the move as a legalistic tactic to avoid punishment from an anti-discrimination law that had been enacted in New York a few months earlier.
Three snippets from that piece …
Robinson, at 26, is reported to possess baseball abilities which, were he white, would make him eligible for a trial with, let us say, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Class B farm at Newport News, if he were six years younger …
The war is over. Hundreds of fine players are rushing out of service and back into the roster of Organized Baseball. Robinson conceivably will discover that as a 26-year-old shortstop just off the sandlots, the waters of competition in the International League will flood far over his head. …
The Sporting News believes that the attention which the signing of Robinson elicited in the press around the country was out of proportion to the actual vitality of the story.
Again, Spink is preaching against the idea of integration. This is from the May 21, 1947, issue, not long after Robinson made his MLB debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Sporting News has not changed its views as expressed in 1942, but feels that with the majors having taken the step of introducing a colored player into their ranks, the situation calls for tolerance and fair play on the part of players and fans.
“The Sporting News had control of the pen,” Kendrick said, “and they created the story the way they wanted the story to look and feel. They added fuel to the fire. They stoked the flames of bigotry and prejudice and hate through their words. They could reach the masses.”
This is from the July 16, 1947, issue, shortly after Larry Doby made his debut in Cleveland, becoming the first Black player in the American League.
The Sporting News does not mean to imply that with the appearance of a Negro in the American League all the raw edges of the race question have been eliminated. Far from it. There still is the opposition of a vast percentage of the white players in the majors. This opposition, stemming from a variety of causes and sources, is not difficult to understand.
Let us examine one of the reasons for this feeling. It concerns the economic stability of the Caucasian player. Here is the way it was summarized for The Sporting News by a big-league All-Star at Chicago.
What about the white players, Spink asks. The unnamed player says “I do not object to playing alongside a Negro” but notes “they” have “their own” league and he finishes with this …
“Another thing. The Negros holler ‘discrimination.’ Well, Robinson moves right into the National League after only one year in the AAA minors, and Doby gets a job in the American League without previous schooling in white baseball. I fought my way through the minors for five years. I rode buses all night for three of those five years, so that I could get a chance in the majors. If we are to have Negros in the majors, let them go through the long preparation the white player is forced to undergo. Let us not discriminate against the white player because he is white.”
The Sporting News believes that this summarization is worthy of consideration.
Reverse discrimination. In baseball. In 1947, all because a grand total of TWO Negro League trailblazers had made it to the major leagues.
Spink’s decision to amplify that single unnamed ballplayer’s opinion shows a willingness — an eagerness, even — to lean into a pro-segregation opinion reflective of his own attitudes, an attitude that was certainly prevalent in and likely appealed to a big portion of his subscriber base. It’s easy to see who he was talking to.
“I don’t think The Sporting News was singularly racist,” Thorn said. “I think national attitudes were reflected in The Sporting News. America was a racist country, and it may be argued that race is the enduring issue in this country to this day. In trying to identify particular villains, whether it’s (Cap) Anson or Spink or Landis, I think you miss the larger story. You oversimplify it. Which is not to say Spink wasn’t a racist or that Landis wasn’t a racist. They were.”
After Doby broke the AL color barrier, the St. Louis Browns became the first team with former Negro Leagues players as teammates, Hank Thompson and Willard Brown. TSN was quick to jump all over their slow start. In the Aug. 13, 1947, issue, a Page 9 headline read: “Browns’ Negro Players Bat only .194 and .178.” This despite the small sample size of 36 at-bats for Thompson and 56 for Brown; and the article is quick to say: “Four of Brown’s hits, which included several flukes, were made in one game in New York.”
“(Spink) was absolutely a segregationist. No question about that,” Kendrick said. “The whole idea of the integration of baseball was never an idea he was even remotely willing to foster. It appeared the paper was hoping and celebrating if these guys failed. It’s tragic.”
Both were released before the end of the season. Thompson, who was 21, actually hit .333 in his final 36 at-bats before he was cut loose, and would go on to play nine years for the New York Giants, hitting at least 17 home runs in five seasons. Brown, who was 32, finished at .179 and went back to play for the Kansas City Monarchs. The headline to the story of their release, in the Sept. 3 issue, read: “Release of Colored Pair by Browns Viewed as Halt for Negro Experiments in St. Louis.”
The Sporting News’ tone changed a little, at least toward Robinson, as he established that not only was he good enough to play in the majors, but he also was a star in the majors. Before the 1947 season even ended, Spink wrote a mid-September piece declaring Jackie Robinson as the National League’s rookie of the year (read that in full here).
But remember that “if he were six years younger” line Spink wrote about Robinson? He revisited that veiled age excuse in 1948, when Cleveland’s Bill Veeck signed Satchel Paige. A few quotes from the editorial.
In criticizing the acquisition of Satchel Paige by Cleveland, The Sporting News believes that Veeck has gone too far in his quest of publicity, and that he has done his league’s position absolutely no good insofar as public reaction was concerned.
Paige said he was 39 years ago. There are reports that he is somewhere in the neighborhood of 50. …
To sign a hurler at Paige’s age is to demean the standards of baseball in the big circuits. Further complicating the situation is the suspicion that if Satchel were white, he would not have drawn a second thought from Veeck.
Spink also was sure to say that nobody could question TSN’s motives because, after all, TSN had named Robinson as its rookie of the year just one year earlier. Also because TSN “went on record as favoring more Negro players when Robinson was signed by Branch Rickey,” conveniently leaving out the fact that five years before that Spink took a much stronger stance against the integration of the sport at the major league level.
Any sort of check of Paige’s statistics or conversations about his production would have revealed that Paige was still an exceptionally effective hurler, even if he wasn’t the dominant force of his youth. Paige had a 2.48 ERA in 72 2/3 innings after he signed with Cleveland in 1948 — pitching back-to-back shutouts in mid-August — helping the club to the AL pennant and then the World Series title. In 1949, Paige had a 3.04 ERA in 83 innings. He pitched three years for the St. Louis Browns, from 1951 to 1953, rolling up a 3.57 ERA despite being in his mid-40s.
Spink’s tone eventually changed regarding Paige, too, but not without again trying to reshape the narrative on TSN’s previous narrative. In September 1956, Spink penned an editorial calling for Satchel Paige’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame, even though technically he was not eligible because he hadn’t reached the mandated minimum of 10 years in the majors.
It’s a sound regulation — but one to which a distinguished exception should be made.
On the walls of the pantheon honoring the greatest players in the history of the game, there should be room for the likeness and the record of Leroy (Satchel) Paige. …
There is no danger that the Negro race will not eventually be well represented at Cooperstown. Jackie Robinson is only the first of a long line of candidates bidding for attention.
But Robinson and his contemporaries are eligible under the rules. Paige isn’t. This is a situation which clamors for correction. The Hall of Fame is dedicated to the best players in the history of the game. It would be an ironic comment on our sense of justice if one who meets that requirement with much to spare were barred on the technicality that he did not spend ten years in the majors.
He’d have spent ten — or maybe 20 or 30 — if baseball people hadn’t discovered the true meaning of democracy belatedly.
Read that last line again. Spink himself helped lead the charge against the tide of integration in 1942, five years before Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers and 16 years before this Paige editorial. And yet, here he rails against nameless “baseball people” without a sense of democracy when really he should have looked in the mirror and taken accountability himself.
The mighty Josh Gibson might be the best slugger ever to grab a bat and step to the plate. At the very least, he’s in the conversation.
Gibson was already a budding legend in Black baseball circles before he hit .378 with nine homers in 111 at-bats as an 18-year-old with the Homestead Grays in 1930, and he spent the next 15 years mashing prodigious home runs against any and all competition, including American and National League hurlers when they faced Gibson in exhibition games and barnstorming contests. Whether he actually hit a baseball out of Yankee Stadium isn’t known for sure, but nobody doubted the feat was possible for Gibson.
Everyone inside baseball had heard of Josh Gibson, having seen him play or having heard the almost mythical stories of his power. But the average fans, reading about America’s Pastime in the pages of The Sporting News? They wouldn’t have had a clue Josh Gibson existed. This wasn’t an accidental omission, it was by choice. TSN was very aware that Negro Leagues existed and made the decision to ignore that entire slice of American ballplayers.
I searched the TSN archives, using various combinations of keywords, and the very first reference I could find to Josh Gibson was in the March 4, 1943, issue. Think about that. Between 1930 and 1943, I found dozens and dozens of mentions of Gibsons: George, Bob, Sam, Frank, Norwood and Homer, but not one word about the only slugger in the country who rivaled Babe Ruth.
“The thing that I talk about all the time at the museum is that history, for the most part, has only been told through one purview,” Kendrick said. “If you don’t have control of the pen, you don’t control the story. And that is why the story of black and brown people in this country has never been written with the kind of accuracy and relevancy as it should.”
And that first mention of Gibson? It wasn’t about him or the Negro Leagues. It was a look at Asbury Park, the New Jersey beach town that was serving as the New York Yankees’ spring training site in 1943, for one year during World War II. The writer mentioned that Asbury Park had hosted games that included Negro League players.
Of the present crop, Josh Gibson, the Babe Ruth of the Negro loop; Willie Wells, a crack shortstop, and Satchel Paige, the might moundsman, are the names that drew real money at the Asbury gate.
Gibson wasn’t alone, playing away from the pages devoured by baseball fans across the globe. The Negro League stars were rarely mentioned.
“It would have been tremendous (if they would have been written about),” Kendrick said, “and I think it would have helped to change mindsets early on.”
The first and only mention I could find of Oscar Charleston during his playing days — he started his Hall of Fame career in 1915 — was in the Dec. 11, 1924, issue, and it didn’t even include his first name. Rube Foster started his career as a hurler in 1902; his first mention was in 1931, and the second came in 1934, though it was positive.
At another time Werden has his All-Stars playing the Negro Giants of Chicago at Nicollet Park. Rube Foster, famous negro pitcher, for whom John McGraw once stated he would gladly pay $100,000 for if he was white, was in the box for the Giants. He fanned 22 batters, whiffing Werden three times. After the game a friend asked Perry if Foster had much stuff on the ball.
“Oh, no,” replied Perry. “He hasn’t got a thing. I thought he was shooting at me with a rifle when I was up there.”
Satchel Paige was, by far, the Negro League star most often mentioned in the pages of TSN. His name first appeared when he faced Dizzy Dean in a 1935 exhibition at Wrigley Field, when he was nearly a decade into his storied career. And that showdown vs. Dean was why he was mentioned more than any other Negro League player. Paige’s popularity was enormous; he was the drawing card for exhibition contests pitting players from the different leagues.
The first photo I could find of Paige — or any Negro Leagues star — was in the July 25, 1940, issue of TSN. And that wasn’t even a TSN article; it was a paid advertisement from The Saturday Evening Post talking about a four-page feature it was running about Paige and Black baseball. That advertisement ran on Page 12; on Page 5 was the first actual TSN article I could find specifically about Paige or Negro Leagues players. It was five paragraphs talking about Paige and the article from The Saturday Evening Post.
“It is fair to say that they ignored them,” Thorn said, “except for what was termed local color; i.e. a barnstorming tour that might come through or a mention of a game that might have been played at a major-league ballpark that was rented for the time the major-league club was on the road. The Negro Leagues were, to use the title of Ralph Ellison’s novel, ‘Invisible Men.’ In baseball, they were not seen by the white media.”
It was a parade of exclusion led by Spink and The Sporting News.
The first mention I could find of an actual Negro League game — one Negro League team facing another Negro League team — wasn’t until 1942. That mention, a one paragraph update on the Negro Major Baseball League season, was in the July 30 issue — Spink likely knowing that his editorial opposing the integration of the major leagues was running in the very next issue, Aug. 6. And when the Negro League games were mentioned in the future, they were almost always relegated to single paragraphs in the Caught on the Fly section, well back in the paper.
Stories of Negro Leagues players were told with great detail and depth by publications that covered their leagues — notably the Pittsburgh Courier, Chicago Defender, Kansas City Call, Baltimore Afro-American and New York Amsterdam News — and writers who penned their stories — Sam Lacy, Wendell Smith and Lester Rodney, to name a few — but the reach of those publications was not nearly that of The Sporting News. Smith, who died in 1972, was the first Black journalist awarded the Spink award, in 1993. Lacy was the second, in 1997. He died in 2003.
When TSN readers asked for more information on Negro Leagues baseball, they were stonewalled. In the July 11, 1929, issue, a question from Robert Lane of West Hartford, Conn., was published. “(Lane) wishes to know if there are any organized negro leagues in the country.”
The TSN answer: “Yes, there are several negro leagues, but we do not keep records of any circuits outside of Organized Baseball.”
There was a similar letter published in TSN two years earlier, in 1927, and the “Organized Baseball” excuse was used then, too. There was a letter to the editor in 1934, pointing out a Black ballplayer who Spink failed to mention in an earlier issue when he noted three Black ballplayers who appeared in games in the 1880s. There was a letter in 1935 suggesting that the World Series champs should play the Kansas City Monarchs.
Let’s talk for a moment about the term “Organized Baseball,” because that carried a lot of water for TSN’s policy of ignoring the Negro Leagues. Though it’s not used often today, Organized Baseball was a very real thing in Spink’s era, often shortened to O.B. for headlines and second references. As Thorn notes, Organized Baseball represents the recognition and cooperation of the major and minor leagues, an agreement that started in 1903 and centered around establishing the American and National Leagues as “separate but equal major leagues” and a reclassification of the minor leagues. O.B. referred to any league in affiliated baseball, from the AL and NL down to the bottom-of-the-ladder Class D leagues.
By 1913, there were 46 different minor leagues in O.B. And The Sporting News covered everything, extensively. Look through the archives in the 1930s and you’ll find regularly published standings and often-extensive notebook-type columns for the four-team Palmetto League, the Nebraska State League (four teams), Rio Grande Valley (four teams), Cotton States League (six teams), Arizona-Texas League (six teams), Western Association (six teams) and Mississippi Valley League (eight teams), to name just a few.
Covering only O.B. teams was a limitation the publication imposed on itself. Spink absolutely could have tasked his TSN writers to write about anything he desired. As Thorn noted, at the peak of TSN’s reach and influence, Spink had 300-some stringers around the country writing about baseball. Not a single one, it’s clear from the lack of coverage, was assigned to write about Negro Leagues baseball.
I want to add a quick note: The Paper of Record archival searches of old issues of The Sporting News are helpful, but they are far from exhaustive. Most of the physical copies of TSN from the early years (from 1886 into the 1920s) were not in great shape when they were digitized in the early 2000s; as a result the software searching for words often misses examples. The effectiveness of the search function is much better starting in the 1930s, but it’s still not infallible. With every mention of archival searches in this piece, I tried multiple combinations of keywords and names to find first/significant references, and what I’ve noted either popped up in search or was found when reading relevant articles.
Also worth noting: We are working on creating our own digital archives of past issues of Sporting News, which should be available in the near future.
Spink’s portrayal of Black Americans
After a week spent digging through The Sporting News archives, I finally typed the N-word into the Paper of Record search bar.
Some stories had “only” single mentions in quotes. Some stories were laced with the word, either in quotes or used as reprehensible descriptions. Each one was more upsetting than the last, a cumulative effect. Each and every instance of the word was surrounded with derogatory portrayals of either Black ballplayers or Black Americans. Because of the poor quality of the pages that hampered the search function, I often found other instances of the word while reading other articles.
The word was not used, as far as I could find, in articles with J.G. Taylor Spink bylines, but that does not matter. This was his publication, and nothing went in without his knowledge or approval. Spink was not a hands-off publisher. He was 100 percent responsible for the content in the pages of his publication.
The casual, matter-of-fact ways in which Black ballplayers and Black Americans were portrayed was sickening. The regular column “Baseball By-Plays” was a haven for ugly and derogatory stereotypes. Three examples: A story about a “midget negro boy” named Cecil who was a mascot for teams (May 25, 1922); a story of Black ballplayers and umpires not knowing the basic rules of the sport (Oct. 18, 1928); a “quote” from a “Negro washwoman” that was printed like this: “Whassa mattah wit’ yuh ahm?” (Nov. 1, 1928).
Those types of stomach-churning quotes were relatively common in the pages of TSN into the 1930s.
Not every mention of Black ballplayers was negative. For example, an Oct. 26, 1922, headline read, “Hails Negro team when it beats the Association Blues” when the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League beat the Double-A Kansas City Stars in an exhibition series. When Larry Doby made his MLB debut, TSN devoted two full pages in the July 16, 1947 issue to Doby’s background — including a headline saying he hit .358 in Winter Ball — complete with a picture of Doby at his home signing autographs for neighborhood kids. And there was a feature on Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s wife, in the July 9, 1947 issue. And then, of course, Spink’s laudatory column proclaiming Robinson as TSN’s rookie of the year that September.
But the negative references far outnumber the positive ones, especially considering Spink’s reign as publisher. And even many of the positive examples usually included some type of dig or excuse. For example, there was a story in the Oct. 8, 1931, issue that talked about how Ted Trent of the St. Louis Stars struck out MLB stars Bill Terry, Paul Waner and Babe Herman, and how the Stars had 12 hits against Heine Meine (he won 19 games and had a 2.98 ERA for the Pittsburgh Pirates that season). The writer blamed the lighting system as the reason the Stars dominated the game.
The themes are unmistakable in Spink’s paper, and they are inexcusable.
The Spink Family mausoleum sits near the easternmost corner of Bellefontaine Cemetery in north St. Louis. The building is framed by exquisite saucer magnolia trees, which Bellefontaine director of horticulture Michael Garrett said were almost certainly planted when the mausoleum was built in 1914, the year of Charles Spink’s death.
William Clark, the explorer of Lewis & Clark fame, is also buried at Bellefontaine, and so is Adolphus Busch, founder of the Anheuser-Busch brewery. George and Alfred Rawlings, the brothers who started the sporting goods company in 1887 — one year after The Sporting News was founded — are there, too. The immaculate grounds, set in rolling hills near the Mississippi River, are packed with people who helped shape not only St. Louis, but the United States.
I visited the Spink gravesite in early January. I had spent so much time researching this piece and learning about the life of J.G. Taylor Spink that I felt compelled to visit.
This story has become personal to me. I grew up in suburban St. Louis, where baseball fans spoke of The Sporting News in reverential tones. I had a subscription to TSN as a kid; it was the first subscription I paid for myself, the first with my name on the mailing label. I’ve worked at Sporting News for most of my career, starting as a fact-checker/assistant editor for the magazine in 2005. I earned my baseball Hall of Fame vote representing Sporting News at ballparks across our country. On my first trip to Cooperstown, in 2012, I took pictures of every Sporting News mention I found in the museum. I did the same when I went back in 2017, for the Induction Ceremony of the first class for which I was honored to vote.
Across the street from Bellefontaine Cemetery sits Calvary Cemetery, where my grandparents on my dad’s side are buried. After I left the Spink gravesite, I spent a little time with Grandpa Charles, who died in 1979 when I was 3, and Grandma Ida, who was our family’s rock until she passed in 2006 at 94 years old. They’re buried less than a half-mile, as the crow flies, from the Spinks.
I will admit that I’m saddened by the idea of separating Sporting News from the BBWAA award. As a publication, we no longer have the monopolistic influence on baseball that we did during the Spink era, and we haven’t since long before I arrived. The sports world bears little resemblance now to what it was in Spink’s era. Seeing the announcement of the Spink Award every year was a nice little reminder of what I was connected to, and that’s almost certainly going away when BBWAA members vote.
It’s a strange line to walk, on one hand being proud to be part of a publication that did so many wonderful things to promote the sport I’ve loved since I was a kid, while on the other hand being repulsed by what I’ve found with a little research.
If the proposal passes, which I both hope and expect it will, the award isn’t going away, it’s just being renamed.
“It was an honor to receive the J.G. Taylor Spink award, but if the Baseball Writers’ Association of America wants to change the name of the award, it won’t change the intent,” said Claire Smith, who was the first woman to receive the award and only the fourth Black journalist, which speaks to a larger, long-time issue in the industry. “It won’t erase any names from the list of honorees. It just changes the name on the plaque that you’re given.”
This is not cancel culture. This is about taking an honest look at our past — both the Sporting News and the BBWAA — and choosing to honor the people worthy of honoring, while removing those unworthy of adulation from our pedestals. And based on what I’ve learned from my research about J.G. Taylor Spink, the future we want is probably not an America he would welcome, and that’s part of the reason why his name needs to be removed.
We are not changing history. We are not erasing history. We are studying our history, learning lessons and moving forward. We are growing.
“This is the direction as a society we hope to go,” Kendrick said, “a direction of unity and inclusion, where diversity is embraced and equity becomes available for all of our citizens.”