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 are asked to nominate one player from their team for this nationally acclaimed award. All of the nominees personify Rotary International's motto, "Service Above Self."
Kershaw was chosen by a National Selection Committee comprised of 450 members of the sports media, baseball executives, past award winners and Rotary district governors. All of the voting this year was conducted online. Fans were given a chance to vote through Facebook for the first time. Kershaw won the fan voting by an impressive margin.
A three-time National League All-Star, Kershaw won the 2011 Cy Young Award. He was also honored with the 2012 Roberto Clemente Award for his sportsmanship and off-field endeavors.
Kershaw and his wife Ellen founded Kershaw's Challenge, a foundation that seeks to transform the lives of at-risk children and communities. Their cornerstone charity, "Arise Africa," has built and sustained an orphanage in Lusaka, Zambia called "Arise Home." The orphanage is now home to nine children who came from desperate situations. This year, their goal is to rebuild a community school in the heart of Lusaka, adding five additional classrooms, a water well and salaries to pay higher educated faculty. Each year, the Kershaws travel to Africa to visit with the children and bring awareness to the issues of diseases and infections related to HIV and AIDS. In 2012, Clayton and Ellen co-authored Arise: Live Out Your Faith and Dreams on Whatever Field You Find Yourself, a book that chronicles their life together and trips to Africa.
Kershaw's Challenge is also involved with Sharefest in Los Angeles and Mercy Street in his hometown of Dallas, TX, both of which seek to improve the lives of at risk youth through after-school programs and sports.
Since 2011, Kershaw has been "Striking Out to Serve," donating $500 to Kershaw's Challenge for each batter he strikes out. So far this season, he is leading the National League with 201 strikeouts. He also leads the Major Leagues in ERA at 1.89.
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 for free.
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; Shane Victorino, Philadelphia Phillies; and last year's winner, R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets.
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. For tickets and sponsorship information, visit www.BranchRickeyAward.org or call the Rotary Club of Denver at 303-893-1919, ext. 105.