Anthony Rizzo will be inducted as the 23rd member of the Baseball Humanitarians Hall of Fame™ on Friday, November 14, when he receives the Branch Rickey Award from the Rotary Club of Denver. The presentation will take place during a banquet at the McNichols Civic Center in Denver.
At 25, Rizzo is the youngest person to receive the award, which was created by the Rotary Club in 1991. Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, currently the special advisor to MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark, was the first to win the Branch Rickey Award, which 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 team member for this award. Rizzo was chosen by a national selection committee comprised of 400 members of the sports media, baseball executives, past award winners and Rotary district governors. Fans were also given a chance to vote online. Rizzo was also one of three finalists for the 2014 Marvin Miller Man of the Year award, part of the Players Choice Awards program, and given annually by Major Leaguers to a peer who inspires others through his on-field play and his off-field contributions to his community.
In 2007, at the age of 17, Rizzo was drafted by the Boston Red Sox after graduating from high school in Parkland, Florida. During his first season with Single-A Greenville, SC Drive, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. After months of chemotherapy, his cancer went into remission. His experience convinced him that an individual does not battle cancer alone — but rather the whole family is affected.
During his fight with the illness, he became determined to one day be a role model to help cancer patients and their families. Rizzo regularly visits and inspires pediatric cancer patients at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago and Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, FL.
The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation was founded in 2012 to raise money for cancer research and provide support for children and families fighting the disease. The foundation has held two “Walk Offs for Cancer” and two “Cook Offs for Cancer,” raising more than $500,000 in these first four events. Their third annual “Walk Off for Cancer” will be held on Nov. 16 in Parkland, FL.
Rizzo made his debut with the Cubs on June 26, 2012, delivering an immediate impact on the team’s then struggling offense. He became the first player in Cubs history to hit three game-winning RBIs in his first five games with the team. His seven home runs that July were the most by a rookie since 1983. This season, Rizzo received more than 8.8 million votes in the MLB Final Vote to be elected to the National League All-Star team.
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, R.A. Dickey, New York Mets; and last year’s winner, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
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.