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On this date, we celebrate Black sportswriter Wendell Smith, who was born in 1914.
Smith was born and raised in Detroit, where his father worked in Henry Ford’s household as a chef. He was the only Black student at Southeastern High School in the motor city. He played on that school’s baseball team and was one of the leading pitchers on an American Legion team that featured future Chicago White Sox catcher Mike Tresh. Smith played baseball at West Virginia State College at Charleston, where he also became the sports editor for the school newspaper during his junior year. Smith began working at the Pittsburgh Courier immediately after graduating in 1937, first as a sportswriter and as the sports editor the following year.
He used his position to protest segregation in professional sports. Smith played a significant, if not central, role in the desegregation of professional baseball in 1946. He is best remembered for his work that resulted in Jackie Robinson signing with the Dodgers in 1947. He recommended Robinson to Brooklyn Dodger’s coach Branch Rickey for the "great experiment," and traveled and roomed with Robinson during the baseball player’s early Dodgers career.
In his later years, Smith worked at mainstream companies, The Chicago American, and at WGN-TV in Chicago. He died of cancer in 1972, at the age of 58. He was posthumously inducted into the writer’s wing of The Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.
20th Century Baseball Chronicle
Year-By-Year History of Major League Baseball
Copyright 1999, Publications International Ltd.