DENVER -- Mets All-Star knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey, who is having a career season but has spent many years performing unique and difficult humanitarian efforts, was named Thursday as the 2012 winner of the Branch Rickey Award presented by AMG National Trust Bank. The award was created by the Rotary Club of Denver and is named for Branch Rickey, a Hall of Famer who developed baseball's farm system, helped the sport expand nationally and participated in efforts to allow underprivileged children to watch Major League games. But Rickey is best known for signing Jackie Robinson in 1945. Robinson broke baseball's modern-day color barrier in '47. Rickey also signed Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, the first dark-skinned Hispanic player to achieve superstardom in the big leagues. Dickey became the 21st winner of the award, which will be presented at a banquet on Nov. 10 at the Marriott City Center Hotel in Denver. Dickey was chosen by a 350-member committee of sports media, past award winners, baseball executives and Rotary district governors. All 30 Major League teams submitted a nominee.
Dickey's latest major effort occurred in January, when he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro -- at considerable risk to his body, not to mention his $4.25 million salary -- to help raise more than $100,000 for the Bombay Teen Challenge, which is dedicated to rescuing young women from forced prostitution in India. Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello and Indians pitcher Kevin Slowey helped with the fundraising effort. Dickey is one of the founders and an active member of Honoring the Father Ministries, a charity that distributes medical supplies and baseball equipment throughout the world. Dickey has traveled to Cuba five times, as well as to Mexico, Venezuela and Costa Rica to meet with young players, give them equipment and instruct them in baseball. This year, Dickey chronicled suffering through sexual abuse as a child and suicidal thoughts as an adult in his autobiography -- "Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball" -- written with New York Daily News reporter Wayne Coffey. Dickey also has made a deal with Dial Press for three books, including a children's version of his memoir. The charity work and the personal story have gained more national notice because of the career year Dickey is putting together. He has gone 18-5 with a 2.68 ERA and 197 strikeouts. Before joining the Mets in 2010, most of Dickey's 16 professional seasons were spent in the Minors, although he had Major League time with the Rangers (2001, '03-06), Mariners ('08) and Twins ('09). After years of attempting to get by with ordinary stuff, Dickey tried his knuckleball at the Major League level in 2006. But after giving up a record-tying six home runs in his first start, he was demoted to Triple-A. Dickey signed with the Brewers in '07 but spent the entire year in Triple-A at Nashville, his hometown. Now, Dickey is a candidate for the National League Cy Young Award. Dickey is the third person representing the Mets to earn the award. The others were Al Leiter (1999) and Bobby Valentine (2002). Award winners who have been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame are Dave Winfield, Kirby Puckett, Paul Molitor, Tony Gwynn and Tommy Lasorda. Dickey will receive the trophy, a replica of "The Player," a 13-foot bronze sculpture that stands at the entrance to Coors Field in Denver, created by internationally prominent sculptor George Lundeen and dedicated on June 2, 2005, to celebrate Rotary International's Centennial Year.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.