The list of professional athletes without rings is in one of the longest lists in the world. There are arguments every single day as to who the best athletes are without rings. And, after much research, I have compiled my personal list of the greatest players ever who never got to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, capture the Larry O’Brien Trophy, get a picture with the Commissioner’s Trophy or kiss a Stanley Cup.
Note- players on this list have to be retired, so no Kevin Durant, Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Ovechkin or Adrian Peterson
Gilbert Perreault– He quit playing hockey 10 years before I was born, but the Hockey Hall of Famer is a legendary name, even to this day. He scored the first goal in Buffalo Sabres history and spent 16+ seasons with the organization and scored 512 goals, had 814 assists for 1326 points in just under 1,200 games, which is 33rd all time.
Carl Yastrzemski– Yaz is a Boston sports legend, spending 23 years with the Red Sox and going to 18 All-Star games. He won the MVP in 1967, winning the Triple Crown 44 home runs, 121 RBI’s and a .326 batting average. Also a great defender, Yastrzemski won six Gold Gloves in his illustrious career. Yaz made it to two World Series, in ’67 and ’75, and hit .352 with three home runs and nine RBI’s in 14 games.
Randy Moss– THE greatest receiver EVER. Better than Jerry Rice and Cris Carter, Randy Moss owned the NFL from the day he came into the league in 1998 until about 2009. Randy was a four time All-Pro and is 2nd all time in receiving touchdowns with 156 and third all time in yards with 15,292. If he had a decent quarterback his entire career, he would be first all time in both categories. He paired up with Tom Brady to be part of the best TEAM to never win a ring.
Karl Malone and John Stockton– Arguably the greatest duo in the history of the NBA, Malone and Stockton were just one of the many victims of Michael Jordan during his reign of the 1990s. They both played 19 years in the league, and while Stockton wasn’t a great scorer, he’s the best passer of all time. He’s the NBA’s all time leader is steals and assists, and him and Malone were dynamic back in the day. Malone made 14 All Star appearances and is the second leading scorer in NBA history, but his turnover numbers, which are first in NBA history, keep him out of the top 10.
The Top Ten
10. Allen Iverson– “The Answer” leads off our list as a recent Hall of Fame inductee. The number one pick out of Georgetown to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996, AI won the Rookie of the Year by scoring 23.5 points per game and in doing so, changed sports culture forever. The way Iverson played, talked, dressed and acted had never been seen at any sport on any level, and no player has had a bigger impact on sports culture.In his 14-year professional career, Iverson made 11 All-Star games.
Arguably the greatest pound-for-pound player in league history, Iverson scored 24,368 points in his illustrious and controversial career. AI led the league in scoring four times, winning the MVP in the 2000-2001 season and leading a bad 76ers roster all the way to the NBA Finals, which is his greatest career achievement.
It certainly wasn’t his fault he never got a ring, in eight years of making the postseason, Iverson played in 71 games and scored 29.7 points per game in his playoff career.
9. Tony Gwynn– Gwynn spend his entire 20-year MLB career with the San Diego Padres, and for his services, he was given the name “Mr. Padre”. One of the best contact hitters in the history of the league, Gwynn batted .338 for his career and with his contact ability, is part of the illustrious 3,000 hit club.
He led the MLB in hits seven times; including a 220 hit campaign in 1997, when he was 37 years old. However, his best season was ten years earlier in 1987, when he batted .370 and swiped 56 bases, yet the Padres still didn’t make the playoffs.
Only a three time postseason participant, Gwynn made two World Series and hit a combined .371 and hit .500 in the 1998 World Series against the New York Yankees.
A 15 time All-Star, five time Gold Glove Winner, a seven time Silver Slugger winner, Mr. Padre will forever be remembered for the loyalty to the team that drafted him in the third round in 1981.
8. Dan Marino– Probably the most famous NFL player to never win a ring (but not the best) Dan Marino is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and retired holding multiple NFL records, including most passing yards in a season and passing touchdowns, with 420.
Marino was the first quarterback to pass for over 5,000 yards in a season, which came in 1984, his second year in the league. He left the league passing for over 61,000 yards in his illustrious career. Marino was the original gunslinger, and had an interception ratio of less than 2:1.
Marino appeared in 18 playoff games, and went 8-10, while performing inconsistently. He made one Super Bowl in 1984, the same year he broke the single season passing touchdowns record with 48, but lost to Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers 38-16.
7. Bruce Smith– The most feared pass rusher in NFL history, Bruce Smith is the only player to record 200 sacks for a career. He spent most of his famed career with the Buffalo Bills, who drafted him first overall in 1985 out of Virginia Tech.
In his time with the Bills, Smith, along with Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas, made four straight Super Bowls, losing all four of them. In his 15 years with Buffalo, Smith recorded 171 sacks and made 11 Pro-Bowls and was an eight time First-Team All Pro. Despite his 200 sacks, Smith never had a 20-sack season, but was a consistent pass rushing threat until his retirement in 2003 with the Washington Redskins.
6. Marcel Dionne– Marcel Dionne is the greatest hockey player to never win a championship, and it’s not even close. The minute center from Quebec was picked 2nd overall by the Detroit Red Wings in 1971, but only spent four years with the team and was then traded to the Los Angeles Kings. In four years in Detroit, Dionne scored 340 points.
Dionne would go on to spend 12 years with the Kings and established himself as a an all time great. After five 100 point seasons in 12 years and one 50 goal season in ’78-’79, and eight playoff appearances (including seven straight), the Kings could still never capture that elusive Stanley Cup.
The Kings traded Dionne in ’87 to the New York Rangers, where he would play out the remainder of career.
Dionne won an Art Ross Trophy in 1980, with 44 goals and 72 assists. Even almost 30 years after his retirement, Dione still ranks 5th all time in goals, with 731 and 6th all time in points with 1,771. Truly one of the most gifted players to never win a championship, what makes his story so crazy is that he never even made it to a Stanley Cup.
5. Ty Cobb– The best contact hitter to ever play the game “The Georgia Peach” is just another in a long list of great baseball players to never win a ring. Cobb played during Baseball’s Golden Age, and was just below Babe Ruth in terms of levels of stardom.
Cobb broke into the MLB at the age of 18 with the Detroit Tigers, and it didn’t take him too much longer to make an impact on the game of baseball. At the age of 20, in 1907 Cobb broke out and led the MLB in hits (212), RBI (119) and stolen bases (53), a pattern that would become quite familiar during his famed career.
Cobb led the MLB in hits eight times, RBI four times and stolen bases six times. In 1909 Cobb won the Triple Crown, with nine home runs, 107 RBI and .377 batting average. Unfortunately for Cobb, the first MVP award wasn’t handed out until 1911, which he won while batting .420.
Cobb finished his career with the Philadelphia Athletics, and in those final two seasons he was the first player to reach the 4,000 hit plateau.
Cobb made the World Series three times in his career (there were no ALDS or ALCS when he played) and lost each time; twice to the Chicago Cubs in 1907 and 1908, and lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1909.
The awards and records go on-and-on for Cobb. He won 12 batting titles, a Triple Crown and an MVP. He is the all time record holder for career batting average with a mind boggling .366. At the time of his retirement, he was the all time hits record holder with 4,189. He currently ranks 4th on the all time list for stolen bases with 897.
4. Charles Barkley– I think I’m a little biased towards “Chuck” because his antics on TNT make me laugh. A lot. But on the court, Barkley was the best power forward of his era, despite being undersized, in terms of height. After being drafted 5th overall in 1984, Barkley was a dominant force his first day on NBA hardwood.
Barkley made his first All-Star team in year three and was one of the main pieces in leading the 76ers to the playoffs, along with Maurice Cheeks, Moses Malone and Julius Irving. In his eight years in Philly, Barkley made six All-Star teams.
“The Round Mound of Rebound” was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 1992. In his first year in his new city, Barkley won the MVP, averaging 25.6 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. The Suns would make it all the way to the NBA Finals, before falling to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
After battling through injuries for the next three years, Barkley was moved to Houston, where he would play out the rest of his career.
Barkley had plenty of regular season awards, including that MVP and 11 All-Star games, but Sir Charles was an extremely productive postseason player, especially in Phoenix.
3. Ken Griffey Jr.- Arguably the most talented baseball player in the history of the sport, the fact that Ken Griffey Jr. doesn’t have a World Series championship should be a crime.
“The Kid” broke into the MLB at the age of 19 and was an immediate star. His bright smile and picture perfect swing took the MLB by storm. The following season, in 1990, he played alongside his dad in Seattle and was named to his first All-Star team, the first of 13 All-Star appearances for Kid Griffey. In 1997, Griffey won the MVP award, with 56 home runs and 147 RBI. In his 13 years with the Mariners, Jr. hit 417 home runs.
The new millennium brought a new team for Griffey, as he was moved to the Cincinnati Reds, where he struggled to stay healthy, but still put up solid numbers when he was able to play at his highest level. In 2009, Griffey returned to Seattle to end his celebrated baseball career.
A prolific power hitter, Griffey is the only player to hit the warehouse behind Camden Yards in Baltimore (in a home run derby). His 630 homers rank sixth in MLB history, and if it weren’t for injury problems throughout his career, he would probably hold the home run record. He was a five-tool player from day one, and was one of the best defenders the outfield had ever seen, as evident by his 10 Gold Gloves. He was the best player of the 1990’s, hands down.
Despite only making it to the playoffs three times in his career, Griffey hit five home runs in one series against the Yankees and was the main reason why the Mariners won that series in five games.
Griffey certainly lived up to the billing that comes with being the first overall pick and the son of a great player. What makes him so impressive is he did all of this during the Steroid Era, and has never been accused of taking them and never tested positive. Earlier this year, Griffey was elected to the Hall of Fame with 99.3% of votes, the highest ever. He was also, surprisingly, the first number one overall pick in MLB history to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
2. Barry Sanders– The best player in NFL history to never win a Super Bowl, Barry Sanders didn’t even MAKE it to a Super Bowl. Sanders was as slippery as a running back as anyone has ever seen. In just 10 seasons in the NFL, Sanders rushed for 15,269 yards and 99 touchdowns and made 10 Pro Bowls. If it weren’t for his early retirement, Sanders would likely have been the consensus greatest running back of all time.
Sanders was also an excellent pass catcher out of the backfield. With 352 catches and almost 3,000 yards, and 10 touchdowns through the air, Sanders could hurt you in more ways than one.
As crazy as it sounds, the Lions were actually pretty good in the 1990’s, making the playoffs five times in a seven-year period. Sanders averaged a respectable 4.2 yards per carry in the playoffs, but only found the end zone one time in five postseason games.
It must really stink to be a Detroit Lions fan (sorry, Gabe). First, Sanders leaves while he was still productive, and then Calvin Johnson does literally the exact thing just 17 years later.
- Ted Williams– The best hitter ever, and it really is not close at all, Ted Williams would have hit 1,000 home runs (slight hyperbole) if he didn’t leave during his prime to fight in World War II. In his first season with the Red Sox, Williams led the entire MLB in RBI’s with 145 and finished 4th in MVP.
The next year, at the age of 21, Williams made his first of 17 All-Star appearances. Then, at the ripe young age of 22, Williams batted .406, the last player to ever bat over .400 in a full season (he hit .407 in 37 games in 1953). Williams won his first MVP the year after he returned from three years of military service, which might be the most impressive thing in the history of sports. The very next year, in 1947, at age 28, Williams won the Triple Crown… and didn’t win the MVP (Joe DiMaggio won it). “The Splendid Splinter” would win his second MVP award in 1949, after hitting 43 home runs and knocking in 159 RBI, both of which led the Major Leagues.
When “Teddy Ballgame” finally hung up the cleats in 1960, he had established himself as one of the greatest athletes, regardless of the sport, to grace this Earth. He finished in the top five in MVP voting nine times… NINE!! A career .344 hitter, good for ninth all time, Williams only hit under .300 just one time, when he was 40. Williams, as famously discussed among fans of baseball, had an unreal eye at the plate. With a 3:1 career walk to strikeout ratio, Williams only struck out 709 times in 9,788 at bats.
To put that into perspective, Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles struck out 219 times this year in just 566 at bats.
Williams led the league in home runs four times and RBI’s four times. An other worldly talent, Williams only made the World Series once (ALDS and ALCS still didn’t exist when he played), losing in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1957. In that series, The Kid only hit .200. Despite the lack of postseason success and appearances, Williams is still, by far, the greatest athlete to never win a championship ring.
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Cover Photo via en.r8lst.com (yeah, seriously)
Other Media via Defpen.com, Marceldionne16.com, USAToday.com, USAToday.com