2019 J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Jayson Stark

Part of the J.G. TAYLOR SPINK AWARD series
Written by: Bill Francis

Jayson Stark was elected the 2019 winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, an honor presented annually to a sportswriter “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.”

The longtime scribe made a name for himself in his hometown of Philadelphia before gaining wider acclaim with national outlets.

“Jack O’Connell (BBWAA secretary/treasurer) called me, maybe 45 minutes before the Baseball Writers meeting, and said, ‘Jayson, this is what’s known in the trade as The Call. I can’t explain how emotional it was,” Stark said. “I knew there was a chance, had thought about it, but to actually get that call was so overwhelming.

“The whole day has been an out-of-body experience. But that was such an incredible, unforgettable moment. I’ll never forget it the rest of my life.”

The Philadelphia native and Syracuse University graduate began his sportswriting career with the Providence Journal (1975-78), where he occasionally covered the Red Sox, then moved closer to home, joining the Philadelphia Inquirer (1979-1999), where he worked the Phillies’ beat before evolving into a columnist. By 2000, Stark had joined ESPN, where he not only wrote for their website but also appeared on the network. Writing for The Athletic since 2018, he also appears on MLB Network and hosts “Baseball Stories” on Stadium TV.

“From the time I was nine years old, I didn’t want to be a baseball player; I wanted to be a writer, a sportswriter, a baseball writer. My mom was a great writer, June Stark, and she helped inspire me with the love of writing. I already had the love of sports,” said Stark. “That’s what I dreamed of doing from the time I dreamed of doing anything. I’ve grown up devouring great sports writing and reading the great sportswriters of my lifetime.

“I’ve gone through that Spink Award exhibit at the Hall of Fame many times and looked at the names and they’re the giants of the business and my sports writing heroes,” said Stark, the 70th recipient of the award. “Last July when I went through the exhibit, I knew I was on the ballot and it hit me that, ‘Oh my god, in a year this could be me. People could be walking through this exhibit and it will be my name and my face and my story.’ I couldn’t grasp it. I’m still having a hard time grasping that I’m going to be on that wall forever because the art of sports writing means so much to me. It’s the honor of a lifetime.”

One of Stark’s colleagues in the business, New York Times national baseball writer Tyler Kepner, shared in his friend’s joy.

You can read a Jayson Stark column and it’s like he’s having a conversation with you about the game and about his thoughts on the game.

Tyler Kepner, The New York Times

“It was a great day for a great guy. Boy, how do I start talking about a guy who has meant so much to me for 30 years? He’s the reason I do what I do,” said Kepner, who was raised in suburban Philadelphia. “Growing up, I read the Philadelphia Inquirer every day. Even as a kid you could tell how much he loved baseball and how much he loved bringing it alive for his readers. That was the thing that first made me a fan of his was that he was such a fan of baseball. I’m so thrilled for him because he’s done everything and he’s done it for 40 years at a really high level. This recognition is richly deserved.

“He’s been at the top of his game since he entered the game. There’s never, ever been a drop-off in the quality of his work, the richness of it, how well-sourced and well-informed it is. But it’s always been done with an underpinning of love for the game. His style is so digestible. It’s so easy to read. It just goes down easy. You can read a Jayson Stark column and it’s like he’s having a conversation with you about the game and about his thoughts on the game.”

“I have such respect for the profession, I have such respect for the talent of the people in my profession. Nobody outside our fraternity understands how hard baseball writers work and what a labor of love it is,” Stark said. “My favorite line about what we do is, ‘It’s a labor of love, but it’s a good thing because it’s a lot of labor.’ That really does describe it.

“There’s so many hours that you put it, so many nights you sit in stadiums that are just about empty except for you. Why do we do it? We do it out of genuine love for our craft, genuine love for our industry, genuine love for the sport. We love baseball more than the world can ever imagine. And I share that only with that fraternity of people of people who do it. That’s special. And that’s why winning the Spink Award is so special.”

According to Kepner, there shouldn’t be a Spink Award if Jayson Stark isn’t an honoree.

“He’s everything that I aspire to be as a writer and, honestly, as a person because he’s so genuine and so giving of his time. Really just one of the nicest people I’ve met and certainly the best baseball writer in the history of baseball writing,” Kepner said. “Roger Angell would certainly be the most elegant essayist ever in baseball, and there have been some amazing beat writers and news gatherers and columnists, but as far as someone who does it all with style and professionalism, to me Jayson Stark is the best baseball writer who ever lived because he can do it all and he’s always done it at such a high level and with so much love for the game.”

Stark shared another poignant story that begins with one of his daughters wanting to attend the parade after the Phillies won the 2008 World Series.

“We drove to the parade, but soon realized that was going to be impossible, so we got off the highway, abandoned our car in middle of a neighborhood and took public transportation just to get there,” Stark said. “After the parade, we took the Broad Street subway – absolutely packed – and a guy spotted me from across the subway car. He wriggled his way through the crowd, started crying, gave me a hug and he said, ‘Thank you for telling our story the way Philadelphians see it. Not the way the rest of the world sees us.’ That was an amazing moment.”

Stark himself admits he shed a few tears when it came to his family after getting the news of his receiving the Spink Award.

“My folks are not alive. I wish they were. My mom was an incredible person,” a choked up Stark relayed, “and a fabulous writer. She could turn a phrase. She loved to read great writing. She taught me to appreciate that. I know somewhere she is smiling. I guarantee it.

“I haven’t cried a whole lot today, but I did when I told my wife Lisa she’s a Hall of Fame wife and I couldn’t have done it without her. My daughter Hali works in the Commissioner’s Office and was there when I got the call. When I hugged her it was really emotional. When I called my kids Steven and Jessica, Facetimed them, the look in their faces was overwhelming. My sister Karen is just the most wonderful human being. I have a Hall of Fame family. It’s special. You don’t do these things without one.”

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the J.G. TAYLOR SPINK AWARD series