Power Ranking the 20 Biggest Award Snubs in Sports History
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas."
There may not be a better forum to apply that saying to than the world of sports. For every award handed out (especially for every Heisman, as you will see) there is seemingly someone who got snubbed.
Call it the ultimate sour grapes power ranking if you want, but read on to see the 20 biggest award snubs in sports history.
*Stats courtesy of sports-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
No. 20: Vince Young and the 2005 Heisman
My beef isn’t necessarily with the fact that Reggie Bush won the 2005 Heisman Trophy over Vince Young.
After all, the dynamic USC playmaker accumulated better than 2,000 yards of total offense,19 total touchdowns and approximately 34 ankles broken.
My qualm is with the fact that the eight-member Heisman Trophy Trust didn’t find it inside its collective heart to give Young the award after Bush was forced to vacate it.
It’s not as if Young, who somehow totaled more than 4,000 yards and 38 touchdowns without receiving improper benefits, wasn’t deserving in his own right.
Trophy or no trophy, it was Young who got the last laugh as he walked off the field in Pasadena with a national championship ring.
No. 19: Matt Kemp and the 2011 NL MVP
We can argue until we’re blue in the face whether Ryan Braun deserved a suspension for his positive PED test.
What isn’t up for much debate is that Matt Kemp had better numbers in the 2011 season than Braun and didn’t have a cloud of controversy surrounding those totals.
Kemp hit .324 with 39 home runs, 126 RBIs, 40 steals, 74 walks and 115 runs. He almost hit for a triple crown and was third in the National League in wins above replacement.
Braun hit .332 with 33 home runs, 111 RBIs, 33 steals, 58 walks and 109 runs and was fourth in the National League in WAR.
Braun’s numbers were great but not quite up to Kemp’s level. Plus, Kemp dated Rihanna, which has to count for something, right?
No. 18: LeBron James and the 2010-11 NBA MVP
With apologies to my fellow Chicago Bulls fans, LeBron James deserved the 2010-11 MVP award that Derrick Rose won.
In fact, the only significant statistic that Rose topped James in was assists per game, and that was by a razor thin margin of .7 (7.7 to seven).
James averaged more points, rebounds and steals a night and had a better shooting percentage. He was also named to the NBA All-Defensive team thanks to the same type of defense that he used to suffocate Rose in the Eastern Conference Finals.
James led the league with a ridiculous 27.3 player efficiency rating (Rose was ninth).
The biggest turning point in this MVP race was when James decided to take his talents to South Beach the summer before. Perhaps the voters were just tired of writing James in as MVP, but there was probably some anti-LeBron sentiment that contributed to this snub.
No. 17: Adrian Peterson and the 2004 Heisman
It’s hard to imagine a running back ripping off nine straight 100 yard games and topping the 200 yard mark three times and still not getting much Heisman Trophy love.
That’s exactly what happened to Adrian Peterson in 2004.
While the Oklahoma Sooner obliterated rival Texas with 225 yards and thundered for 240 against Baylor, his most impressive performance probably came against Oklahoma State.
Peterson accumulated 161 yards of rushing in the third quarter alone against the Cowboys. Yep, you read that right—the third quarter alone.
Despite the gaudy 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns, Peterson did one thing wrong in 2004.
He was a freshman.
Sure, on the surface that makes what Peterson did even more impressive considering he was dancing at the prom a few months prior. However, freshmen barely ever register consideration for the Heisman Trophy, let alone win it.
The award went to Matt Leinart, who had an impressive season of his own, but Peterson deserved it.
No. 16: Alex Karras and the 1957 Heisman
I never had the privilege of watching John David Crow play running back for Texas A&M on a black and white television in 1957, but I’m sure he was an impressive player.
That still doesn’t change the fact that running for 562 yards and playing only seven games due to injury should realistically eliminate someone from Heisman consideration.
While Crow was nursing his injuries, Alex Karras was busy dominating the Big Ten from his less glamorous defensive tackle position.
The Hawkeyes’ defensive force won the Outland Trophy and led a team that dominated on defense and allowed a measly 12 points a contest.
Unfortunately for Karras, there may as well be a Constitutional Amendment banning defensive tackles from winning the Heisman Trophy.
No. 15: Marshall Faulk and the 1992 Heisman
It’s not exactly easy to win the Heisman Trophy as a San Diego State Aztec, even if your name is Marshall Faulk.
Faulk shredded opposing defenses in 1992 to the tune of 1,758 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns.
The actual trophy went to Gino Torretta, who was effective as the starting quarterback for Miami but not spectacular (19 touchdowns to 7 interceptions). In today’s defense-optional college football world, quarterbacks like Geno Smith and Matt Barkley match his touchdown totals in a month.
Torretta undoubtedly benefited from the increased attention that “The U” garnered from the media in the early '90s, but it was Faulk who had the better season in 1992.
Something tells me Faulk will take his Hall of Fame NFL career as a nice consolation prize.
No. 14: Shaquille O’Neal and the 2000-01 NBA MVP
The NBA MVP race in the 2000-01 season was a battle of little versus big.
The official winner was the little Allen Iverson, but the towering Shaquille O’Neal should have taken home the hardware.
Shaq put up video game-type numbers from the low block in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. He recorded 28.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and even 3.7 assists.
Iverson put up great numbers as well (highlighted by his 31.1 points per game), but he wasn’t very efficient in doing so. By comparison, O’Neal shot 57 percent from the field to Iverson’s 42.
You can argue that O’Neal was taking far easier shots, and be correct in doing so, but Iverson still turned it over more than three times a night and came nowhere near Shaq’s league-leading 30.2 player efficiency rating.
Shaq ultimately got the final say when he and the rest of the Lakers dispatched Iverson’s Sixers in five games in the NBA Finals.
No. 13: O.J. Simpson and the 1967 Heisman
Alright, so there's not a lot of people that are going to read this and start feeling sorry for O.J. Simpson.
But that doesn't mean he didn't deserve the 1967 Heisman Trophy.
Instead, the award went to crosstown rival and UCLA quarterback Gary Beban.
For some reason, the voters ignored the fact that Simpson's USC team handled Beban's UCLA team thanks largely to Simpson's go-ahead touchdown run and Beban's failure to match it. The game marked the Bruins' first loss of the season and spurred the Trojans to an eventual national championship.
Simpson ran for better than 1,400 yards while Beban threw for a pedestrian 1,359 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.
This race wasn't close in the stat book or on the field, but somehow Beban was given the Heisman at the end of the year.
No. 12: Roger Clemens and the 1990 AL Cy Young
Bob Welch won a heck of a lot of games for the Oakland A’s, otherwise this snub would have been much higher on the list.
Still, Roger Clemens deserved the 1990 AL Cy Young. Take a look at the numbers and judge for yourself.
Welch: 27-6, 2.95 ERA, 127 K, 26 HR, 77 BB and a 1.2 wins above replacement rate
Clemens: 21-6, 1.93 ERA, 209 K, seven HR, 54 BB and an eight wins above replacement rate
In today’s Moneyball era I probably don’t have to tell you that Clemens’ superiority in every other category outweighs the difference in wins by a wide margin. The WAR stat speaks for itself.
What’s more, seamheads.com reports that Welch’s record would have fallen to 19-14 had he received average run support in his starts. Instead, an A’s team that scored 4.5 runs a game gave Welch an average of 5.03 runs a night.
For comparison's sake, Clemens received the lowest run support of any Red Sox starter that year.
Seamheads.com gives an insightful analysis of just how wide the gap between Clemens and Welch was in 1990, and I encourage you to give it a read.
No. 11: Rex Grossman and the 2001 Heisman
Rex Grossman may be best known for his failures as a professional now, but there was once a time that he was the leader of an aerial assault in Gainesville.
Grossman was never better than he was in 2001. The Florida quarterback threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 34 touchdowns and won the AP Player of the Year Award (as in an honor for being the best player in college football).
Despite his gaudy numbers, Grossman didn’t impress Heisman voters as much as Eric Crouch did by throwing seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Of course it is unfair to the Nebraska quarterback to overlook his impressive rushing totals (better than 1,000 yards and 18 touchdowns), but it’s difficult to justify giving college football’s most prestigious award to a quarterback with more picks than touchdowns.
No. 10: Pedro Martinez and the 1999 AL MVP
Pedro Martinez received more first place votes for the 1999 AL MVP award than any other player.
With no Electoral College or recounts involved, you would think that would be enough to win him the trophy.
Well, you would be wrong.
Ivan Rodriguez walked away with the MVP because two voters left Martinez completely off their 10-player ballots because he was a pitcher. The most ironic part about that is one of those voters had two pitchers (David Wells and Rick Helling) on his ballot the previous year.
Martinez led the league in strikeouts (313), wins (23), winning percentage (23-4, .852), ERA (2.07) and WHIP (.923).
Despite the video game numbers, Martinez had to settle for the Cy Young Award instead.
No. 9: Frank Thomas and the 1992 AL MVP
Pedro Martinez didn’t win the MVP Award in 1999 primarily because he was a pitcher.
So it makes perfect sense that seven seasons earlier Dennis Eckersley, who was not only a pitcher but a relief pitcher, won the MVP.
It’s not as if Eckersley wasn’t impressive. He had a 1.91 ERA with 51 saves. However, he only pitched in 80 innings all season.
That would be approximately five percent of the innings that the Oakland A’s played in 1992. In other words, the MVP of the entire American League sat on the bench or in the bullpen for 95 percent of the time he was in uniform that season.
The MVP could have been given to a number of players that year who weren’t relief pitchers, but Frank Thomas was probably the most deserving. He led position players in wins above replacement and hit .323 with 24 home runs and 115 RBIs.
Fear not, the Big Hurt won the MVP the next two seasons.
No. 8: The Entire NL MVP Voting System in 1979
If there was ever a case study for how backwards award voting can be in sports it was the NL MVP race of 1979.
Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell shared the award as co-MVPs despite the fact that Hernandez received 10 first place votes to Stargell’s four.
However, Stargell was able to garner enough second and third place votes that he ended up even with Hernandez in the total scoring. What’s more, Dave Winfield received the same number of first place votes as Stargell but finished third in the overall race.
It could be written off as just a quirk in the system if all three players were deserving of the consideration, but Winfield and Hernandez were far superior to Stargell that year.
Hernandez hit .344 with a wins above replacement rate of 7.2. Winfield had the highest WAR in the league (8.4) and hit .308 with 43 home runs.
Stargell had a notably low WAR of 2.3, meaning he was only a couple wins better than an average player. In other words, he was closer to average than MVP level that year (or even co-MVP level).
No. 7: Kobe Bryant and the 2005-06 NBA MVP
Regardless of where you stand on Kobe Bryant in terms of your rooting interests, you cannot deny the fact that he is one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
That is why it is noteworthy that Bryant did not win the MVP award in what was probably his best individual season.
The Black Mamba poured in 35.4 points per game (which led the league by a wide margin) in 2005-06 while showing his versatility with 4.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds a night.
What’s more, Bryant was one of the league’s best defenders (nearly two steals a game) and landed a spot on the NBA All-Defensive First Team.
It was also the season Bryant scored 81 points in one game.
Steve Nash somehow took home the MVP despite the fact that he was somewhat of a defensive liability. He put up impressive totals (18.8 points and 10.5 assists a night), but they were nowhere near what Kobe was posting.
No. 6: Lou Gehrig and the 1934 MVP
As we climb up this list there will come a point when these snubs begin to border on the egregious. This is one of those times.
Michey Cochrane won the 1934 MVP by hitting .320 with a grand total of two home runs, 76 RBIs and 74 runs scored.
Some other guy named Lou Gehrig mashed all season to the tune of .363 and 49 home runs. Alas, he was overlooked in the MVP voting.
I guess Cochrane must have enjoyed the bump that household names and superstars typically get in award races such as these.
It’s not as if he was going against one of the greatest and most famous players of all time or anything.
No. 5: The Kansas State Rule
We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to go a bit outside the box for one slide.
For all extensive purposes let’s assume getting to a BCS game is an award in and of itself (the payout certainly is—hooray college athletics) and talk about the snub that inspired a rule named after the afflicted party.
Kansas State finished third in the first ever BCS rankings in 1998. However, the Wildcats were passed up when it came to an at-large bid to a BCS game by No. 4 Ohio State and No. 8 Florida.
Because Kansas State couldn’t match the Buckeyes or Gators in terms of fanfare or historical prestige, it was delegated to the Alamo Bowl after its incredible season.
The slight spurred the BCS into creating the “Kansas State Rule” which ensures the third (or fourth if the third has been accepted) ranked team receives an automatic bid to a BCS game.
Good thing the BCS has cleaned up its act since then and is no longer controversial.
No. 4: Redbird Robbery and the 1944 NL MVP
Marty Marion and Stan Musial had two things in common in 1944—they were both St. Louis Cardinals and they both played effective defense.
One thing they did not have in common was their ability with the bat.
Marion hit .267 in 1944 with a .324 on-base percentage and .362 slugging percentage. His wins above replacement total registered at four.
Musial on the other hand hit .347, got on base at a .440 clip and slugged to the tune of .549. He also led the league in WAR with a 9.1 total, which was three points higher than anyone else who received MVP votes that season.
Yet it was Marion who won the MVP award. All Musial was left with was an awesome nickname (Stan the Man) and the knowledge that he was more deserving.
Makes perfect sense.
No. 3: The Michael Jordan Slide
I present Michael Jordan’s per game statistics for the following three seasons without further comment:
1986-87: 37.1 points (led the NBA), 4.6 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 2.9 steals and 1.5 blocks
1988-89: 32.5 points (led the NBA), eight assists, 6.2 rebounds, 2.9 steals and .8 blocks
1989-90: 33.6 points (led the NBA), 6.3 assists, 6.9 rebounds, 2.8 steals (led the NBA) and .7 blocks
Alright I lied, there is further comment.
Jordan was not only the best offensive player in the NBA, he was also arguably the best defensive force as well. These three seasons were some of the best statistical performances in the history of the Association.
But he was forced to watch Magic Johnson accept the MVP award all three times.
I know Magic was a dynamic, once-in-a-lifetime player (he would be in the top three in my own personal best-ever power rankings, but I digress), but he was nowhere near the player Jordan was in those three seasons, especially on the defensive side.
In Magic’s defense, nobody has ever been the player Jordan was.
No. 2: Ted Williams and the 1941-1942 MVP Awards
In a vacuum I don’t have much of an issue with Joe DiMaggio winning the MVP in 1941. After all, that was the season he hit in a record 56 consecutive game, etching his name forever in baseball lore.
However, I do have an issue with the fact that Ted Williams wasn’t given the MVP in 1941 or 1942 despite the fact that it was one of the best two-year stretches of all time.
Williams’ unworldly numbers in 1941 were as follows: .406 average (last time someone hit above .400), .553 on-base percentage, .735 slugging percentage, 37 home runs and a league-leading 11.3 wins above replacement total.
That's right, he got on base 55 percent of the time he stepped to the plate.
He followed that up with a .356/.499/.648 line, 36 home runs and a WAR of 11 in 1942 only to lose the MVP award to Joe Gordon.
Wait, who is Joe Gordon? you ask.
*He’s actually a Hall of Famer, but that’s beside the point now isn’t it?
No. 1: Jim Brown and the 1956 Heisman
I wish this was just a case of Notre Dame bias that we have seen in the past.
Paul Hornung led the Irish to a less than stellar 2-8 finish in the 1956 season behind a three touchdown and 13 interception year at quarterback. Somehow he still managed to win the Heisman Trophy.
Yes, you read that right. The quarterback of a team that finished 2-8 who had a measly three touchdown passes and 13 interceptions won the most prestigious award in all of college football.
Even Eric Crouch thinks that’s ridiculous.
However, according to Lost Lettermen, it wasn’t just pure ineptitude on the part of the voters that gave Hornung the award.
It was a case of blatant racism.
Syracuse’s Jim Brown was the actual best player in college football in 1956, and he steamrolled his way to 986 yards and 14 touchdowns in only eight games for the Orange.
Nevertheless, he finished behind Hornung in the voting.
Dick Schaap was so enraged by the process and outcome that he vowed to never participate in the Heisman voting again.