Jayson Stark grew up wanting to be a baseball writer.
No, he didn’t want to be a Major League player. In fact, Stark, who grew up in Lexington Park, would go to games and point his binoculars toward the press box.
“I’d try to figure out, what was everybody doing up there?” said Stark, who graduated from Lincoln High School in 1969.
Safe to say, Stark figured it out. Earlier this month, he won the prestigious J.G. Taylor Spink Award in recognition of his four decades covering baseball. Stark will receive the award in July during induction weekend at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Stark was at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Las Vegas when his hotel room phone rang with the news that he had been elected by fellow members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“When he actually said those words, I couldn’t believe how emotional it was,” said Stark, who lives in Newtown, Bucks County. “That’s a life-changing moment. I don’t take those things for granted.”
Stark’s career includes two decades at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he was known for his popular “Baseball Week in Review” column. He also spent 17 years as a national writer and analyst at ESPN and currently writes for The Athletic, a subscription-based sports website, and appears regularly on MLB Network.
His love of writing and baseball began in the Northeast. Stark’s path to Cooperstown started with a newspaper he produced for his neighbors when he was in elementary school.
“My mom inspired me with a love of writing,” he said. “I always had that, just from a really young age, had that love of baseball.”
Stark’s mom, June Herder Stark, wrote for the Philadelphia Record and worked alongside legendary sportswriter Red Smith. However, no one in his family had a particularly keen interest in baseball.
“I can’t even explain it,” he said. “It’s not like I grew up in the Northeast Philadelphia equivalent of the (Cal) Ripken family house.”
Readers and fellow writers have often praised Stark’s passion and knowledge of the game.
Tyler Kepner, national baseball writer for the New York Times, grew up in Montgomery County and remembers eagerly ripping open the Inquirer to read Stark’s articles.
“He just made baseball writing seem so fun,” Kepner said. “He always found an interesting angle, and he always had a way of expressing it in a very conversational, very easy-to-read, easy-to-digest kind of style. I could just tell how much this guy loved baseball.”
Kepner, at the age of 14, published a monthly baseball magazine from his home in Gwynedd Valley while attending Germantown Academy. He wrote letters to Stark and other baseball writers to ask for advice, and Stark responded.
“It just really made an impact on me,” Kepner said. “It was very encouraging about my work, and it was also very helpful.”
Kepner described Stark as “relentlessly positive” and said he considers him a mentor and a friend. There’s been no drop in the quality of Stark’s work, Kepner added.
“The writers should not be recognized at the Hall of Fame unless Jayson Stark is among that group,” Kepner said. “To me, he’s the best baseball writer who ever lived because he can do it all.”
Stark said he doesn’t know how he maintains his love of baseball — he just does. Even after covering so many World Series-clinching games, including the Phillies’ victories in 1980 and 2008, he still relishes the opportunity to watch a team chase a championship.
“I’ve seen a lot of things that people talk about forever,” Stark said. “That’s one of the coolest parts of my job.”
“I am one of the luckiest people who ever lived because I do exactly what I always dreamed of doing,” he added.
Stark is the 70th recipient of the Spink Award, and he received more than half of the 463 ballots, which were cast by baseball writers with 10 or more consecutive years in the business. The BBWA statement said he has “exhibited passion and humor in equal measure” during his career. ••
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org