APSE to honor Wendell Smith at summer conference

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WASHINGTON — Wendell Smith will be honored with the Associated Press Sports Editors’ Red Smith Award next month at the organization’s annual summer convention.

The late African-American sportswriter covered the Negro Leagues, boxing and convinced Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey to give Jackie Robinson a shot in the major leagues. Once signed by the Dodgers, Smith chronicled Robinson’s playing career for The Pittsburgh Courier.

Smith personally reached out to the Dodgers’ exec about Robinson’s major league talents.

After striking a deal with the shortstop, Rickey then hired Smith for $50 a week to travel with Robinson as he trained with the Class AAA team in Montreal. Smith continued to shadow Robinson into his debut season in 1947.

The Baseball Writers Association of America rejected Smith the first time he applied for membership, but he applied again, and in 1948, Smith became the first African American admitted into the organization.

Smith became the first black reporter for the Chicago Herald-American. He also worked for WGN television as a sports anchor while serving as a columnist for The Chicago Sun-Times.

Smith passed away in 1972, but his wife will accept the award on June 27 — which would have been his 100th birthday.

“I think it’s wonderful; I’m deeply honored,” said Wyonella Smith, his 92-year-old widow. “After all this time, it’s wonderful. It’s a surprise. I was really surprised, but I am just deeply honored that he was remembered so, and respected and that his contribution has been acknowledged.”

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