Stark, Helfer honored by Baseball Hall of Fame

July 20th, 2019

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Jayson Stark dreamed as a child that he would become a baseball writer. He went on to become one of the best.

How cool is that?

On Saturday, Stark received the 70th J.G. Taylor Spink Award for his “meritorious contribution to baseball writing” at the famed Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. Stark joined the late broadcaster Al Helfer, who received the 43rd Ford C. Frick Award for “major contributions to baseball.”

“I am literally living the dream, especially this week,” Stark said. “This has been an out of body experience. It feels like it is happening to somebody else. But all these great folks from the Hall of Fame keep telling me that it’s happening to me. A thrill of a lifetime. One of the great weeks of my life.”

Stark is one of the most well-respected, widely-read baseball writers in the country. His love for baseball shines in every story, every interview, every strange-but-true statistic he uncovers (how does he find those stats anyway?) and every relationship he builds.

You know the stereotypical curmudgeonly baseball writer? Stark is the antithesis of that. If he has ever had a bad day at the ballpark, he has never shown it. Everybody should love their job so much.

It makes Stark a model for aspiring sportswriters. So, Jayson, how does somebody reading this story, dreaming like you once dreamed, be like you? Give us a hint.

“When I realized that I wanted to be a baseball writer and somebody might actually hire me to do that,” Stark said, “I studied Peter Gammons. I didn’t just read Peter. I studied everything about him. I read every word. I tried to figure out why he wrote those stories the way he wrote them. I tried to figure out, how did he connect this baseball game to Little Feat? I tried to ask myself, 'What could he have possibly done to look up that stat? What question could he have possibly asked to get that great quote?'

“I would file that stuff away. I always like to tell anybody that wants to do this, who wants to get into the media, that they should pick out the people in the business that they most love and admire and not just read them or watch them or listen to them, but study them.”

Stark grew up in Philadelphia, graduating from Lincoln High School in 1969. He attended Syracuse University before his professional sportswriting career began at the Providence Journal (1975-78). He worked for his hometown paper The Philadelphia Inquirer (‘79-99), then joined ESPN in 2000. He worked there for more than 15 years before joining The Athletic in ‘18. His stories can be found there, but he can also be seen and heard every week on MLB Network.

Helfer worked behind the microphone for eight teams during his career: Pittsburgh Pirates (1933-34), Cincinnati Reds (‘35-36), New York Yankees (‘37-38, ‘45), Brooklyn Dodgers (‘39-41, ‘55-57), New York Giants (‘45, ‘49), Philadelphia Phillies (‘58), Houston Astros (‘62) and Oakland A’s (‘68-69). He also spent served in the Navy during World War II. Helfer, who died in 1975 at age 63, gained a national following with his Game of the Day work in the ‘50s, when he travelled to a different ballpark six days a week.

“You can’t beat this life if you like sports as much as I do. If this were not my business, it would be my hobby,” Helfer told the Chicago Tribune in 1952. “But every job has a hook in it. Mine is travelling. I’ve been living out of a suitcase most of my working life. Fans repeatedly say they envy me. I see a ballgame every day and get paid for it. The broadcast is the whipped cream on my cake. What they don’t know is that there is a lot of book work to sportscasting.”

Stark and Helfer sound alike in that regard. They both loved baseball. But they both worked hard to become one of the best.

“Preparation is the essence of what we do,” Stark said. “I’m a preparation freak. This is a craft. This is a profession. This is the kind of gig that you need to devote a lot of time to it.”

Once the Hall of Fame festivities end this weekend, Stark and his family will make their way back to the Philadelphia suburbs. Soon enough Stark will head back to the ballpark, looking for another story to write with the same enthusiasm he had when he became the Phillies’ beat writer in the late 1970s.

“I really like people and I’m really interested in other people and their stories,” Stark said. “I’m still doing something that I’ve done my whole career. When I walk into a clubhouse, I don’t need to know who the biggest star is. I need to know who’s the funniest guy in the room, who’s the smartest guy in the room. I don’t care if it’s the backup catcher. I don’t care if it’s the guy that plays three days a week. I want to talk to that guy.”

That instinct has made him a must-read every time.

MLB Network’s coverage of the 2019 Hall of Fame induction ceremony will begin Sunday at 11 a.m. ET and be streamed live on