Veteran Times columnist Bill Plaschke wins prestigious Red Smith Award

The reaction was thunderous and effusive.

Colleagues and competitors, team officials, longtime readers and even some critics all celebrated when the Associated Press Sports Editors announced this past week that Times columnist Bill Plaschke won its prestigious Red Smith Award.

It is widely considered the highest sports journalism honor a writer can earn.

Plaschke, 65, is the third Times journalist to win the top prize, following legendary columnist Jim Murray (1982) and former sports editor Bill Dwyre (1996).

“When I heard that Bill won the Red Smith Award, my initial reaction was, ‘Well deserved! And long overdue,’” veteran Times sports reporter Gary Klein said.

The sentiment was shared by many others, including droves of journalists he mentored and leaders of organizations Plaschke volunteered to assist through the years.

“Whoever said you don’t want to meet your heroes has never met Bill,” Times reporter Thuc Nhi Nguyen said. “He’s not only absolutely deserving of this award that honors his incredible work and career, but he’s also a Hall of Fame person and the best teammate you can ask for.”

Plaschke has earned numerous top journalism awards throughout his career, placing in the top 10 of APSE’s annual columnist competition 22 times and earning top overall honors nine times.

“I’m honored and humbled to receive any honor that was once given to the great Jim Murrray and the great Bill Dwyre,” Plaschke said. “This award belongs to everyone who has worked alongside me from Fort Lauderdale to Seattle to Los Angeles, where I have spent the last 37 years surrounded by the consistently greatest group of sports journalists in the country, my L.A. Times teammates.”

Plaschke grew up in Louisville and graduated from Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. His first full-time journalism job was at the Fort Lauderdale News, where he covered a mix of senior and youth sports.

“Bill treated those youth soccer players as if they were Messi, the Little Leaguers as if they were Mookie, the Pop Warner kids as if they were Stafford. Even then, he was more interested in their stories than in their stats,” said Gene Wojciechowski, who worked with Plaschke in Fort Lauderdale and later at The Times before departing for ESPN.

“The sports editor of the paper, unsure of what to make of Bill’s zeal, once said to him: ‘You write long letters when all I really want is a postcard.’ But that was Bill then. And after more than 40 years in the newspaper business, it remains Bill. To him, sports and its stories will never fit on a postcard.”

Plaschke covered the Mariners in Seattle and Padres and Dodgers for The Times before spending the past 28 years as a Times columnist. He also has served as a recurring panelist on ESPN’s “Around the Horn.”

“Bill is the most heartfelt columnist in America. Or better, heart full. He empties his heart in every column,” said Tony Reali, host of “Around the Horn.” “Bill is the most human of sportswriters and puts it right on the page. Whether it’s about the pursuit of 120 wins for the Dodgers or passing of Kobe Bryant or the tragic loss and stunning victory in Paradise, California, Bill puts all of his humanity into his words. Or as Red Smith said better, ‘opens up a vein and bleeds.’ That’s why this award is so wonderful. He practices exactly what Red Smith preached.”

While he has readers from coast to coast and around the globe, his commitment to serving as a strong voice for Los Angeles sports fans has never wavered.

His tributes to Kobe Bryant, Tommy Lasorda and Vin Scully helped capture the city’s grief. His joy has matched the euphoria of championship runs and frustration echoed the pain of championship droughts. He is quick to question bullies and call out offensive behavior at all levels of sport.

“Picking a favorite Plaschke column is like looking for a particular grain of sand on a beach. Probably can’t be done,” former Times deputy sports editor John Cherwa said. “But his best work, I think, is when he tells a story of a person you’ve never heard of, but after reading a thousand or so words would really like to meet them in person because you feel you already know them.”

There might be no favorite column, but readers delivered the most heartfelt responses when Plaschke first introduced them to his mother, Mary, without whom he never would have become a journalist, and later shared the sad news of her death.

While he remains eager to work on his next column, Plaschke said he has been moonlighting as a journalist. His real job is being a father to Tessa, Willie and MC, and grandfather to Daisy.

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