NEW YORK – R.A. Dickey, a former Vol and current star pitcher of the New York Mets, has been named the winner of the 2012 Branch Rickey Award, presented by AMG National Trust Bank. Jim Wilkins, founder of the award, made the announcement Thursday during a press conference at the Denver Athletic Club.
Dickey, who was inducted into the Tennessee Baseball Hall of Fame this February, will be inducted as the 21st member of the Baseball Humanitarians Hall of Fame™ during a banquet on Saturday, Nov. 10 at the Marriott City Center Hotel in downtown Denver.
Created by the Rotary Club of Denver in 1991, the Branch Rickey Award honors individuals in baseball who contribute unselfishly to their communities and who are strong role models for young people. Each year, the Major League Baseball teams nominate one player from their team for this nationally acclaimed award. All of the nominees personify Rotary International’s motto, “Service Above Self.”
Dickey was chosen by a National Selection Committee, comprised of 350 members of the sports media, past award winners, baseball executives and Rotary district governors. All 30 Major League teams submitted a nominee for the award. Combining forces with a teammate from the bronze-medal-winning 1996 U.S. Olympic baseball team, Dickey helped found Honoring the Father Ministries, a benevolent charity that distributes baseball equipment and medical supplies around the world. He has personally traveled to Cuba five times, as well as visiting Mexico, Venezuela and Costa Rico to meet with young baseball players and give them instruction and equipment.
This January, Dickey climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, helping to raise more than $100,000 for the Bombay Teen Challenge, an organization dedicated to rescuing young women from forced prostitution in India.
Dickey, a high-velocity knuckleballer, is one of the best pitchers in the Majors this year with an 18-5 record, 2.68 ERA and 197 strikeouts. Before joining the Mets in 2010, he had played professional baseball for 16 years, mostly in the minors. The story of his long and frustrating journey to the pinnacle of pitching is chronicled in his recently released book, “Wherever I Wind Up, My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball.” Dickey is the only Major League pitcher who now throws the knuckleball, a spinless pitch that is as difficult to master as it is to hit.
The late Branch Rickey, known to millions as “Mr. Baseball,” is credited with breaking the color barrier in the Major Leagues in 1945 when he signed Jackie Robinson, the first modern day African-American player. He also hired the first Hispanic player, Roberto Clemente.
Rickey helped develop the farm system in baseball and stimulated the sport’s expansion into more cities. Always an advocate for underprivileged children, he spearheaded the development of the famous “Knot Hole Gang,” to allow kids to attend big league games.
Previous recipients of the Branch Rickey Award include: Dave Winfield, Toronto Blue Jays; Kirby Puckett, Minnesota Twins; Ozzie Smith, St. Louis Cardinals; Tony Gwynn, San Diego Padres; Brett Butler, Los Angeles Dodgers; Craig Biggio, Houston Astros; Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins; Al Leiter, New York Mets; Todd Stottlemyre, Arizona Diamondbacks; Curt Schilling, Arizona Diamondbacks; Bobby Valentine, New York Mets; Roland Hemond, Chicago White Sox; Jamie Moyer, Seattle Mariners; Tommy Lasorda, Los Angeles Dodgers; John Smoltz, Atlanta Braves; Trevor Hoffman, San Diego Padres; Torii Hunter, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; Vernon Wells, Toronto Blue Jays; and last year’s winner, Shane Victorino of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Winfield, Puckett, Smith, Molitor, Gwynn and Lasorda, as well as Branch Rickey, have also been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Branch Rickey Award is a replica of The Player,” the 13-foot tall bronze sculpture that stands at the entrance to Coors Field at 20th & Blake in Denver. It was created by internationally prominent sculptor George Lundeen, and was dedicated on June 2, 2005 in celebration of Rotary International’s Centennial Year.