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The greatest players who never won an MVP

One of the biggest annual debates for impact in any sport is who is named MVP? It carries both immediate weight and long-term prestige, helping to tell the history of the respective league. However, there are many greats that craft their entire Hall of Fame legacy – but do so without ever capturing MVP. Here is a look at the top American athletes of all time who saw MVP honors fall outside their reach.

 

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One of the most prolific performers in NBA history, Baylor was an 11-time All-Star who owned averages of 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds over his 14-year career with the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers. But Baylor never took home full season honors amid an era dominated by Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, despite finishing top three in the voting three times.

 

Sue Bird

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A 12-time All-Star and four-time champion in the WNBA with the Seattle Storm and five-time Olympic Gold Medalist among many other accomplishments, Bird’s trophy case is far from barren. Yet the one significant accomplishment that has eluded her within the WNBA is MVP. However, the WNBA’s all-time assist leader has played a significant part in the MVP runs of two other Seattle legends in Lauren Jackson and Breanna Stewart.

 

Wade Boggs

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Boggs was one of the biggest names in baseball during the 1980s, winning five batting titles for the Boston Red Sox and starting a string of 12 consecutive All-Star selections. However, when it came to the MVP, not only did he annually come up short, he often did so to his own teammates. In 1986, he hit .357 but finished seventh in the voting behind teammates Roger Clemens and Jim Rice. The following year, Boggs reinvented himself, tripling his home run total, while raising his batting average to .363. His reward? Dropping down from seventh to ninth in MVP voting.

 

Ray Bourque

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Bourque spent 21 years with the Boston Bruins establishing himself as one of the greatest defencemen of all time. While captured seven Norris Trophies to solidify that reputation and scored more points than any D-man ever in the process, he remains arguably the best player to never claim the Hart Trophy (which only two defencemen have done since 1970). Bourque did finish second twice, however, including 1990 when Mark Messier narrowly claimed it over him.

 

Drew Brees

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Perhaps no more accomplished athlete –in any league— did more in his career, but walked away without an MVP to show for it. Brees became the first player in NFL history to throw for over 80,000 yards, while also holding records for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass and highest single-season completion percentage. While he has 13 Pro Bowl selections, two Offensive Player of the Year nods, and was named MVP of Super Bowl XLIV, but his historic career finished without him being recognized as the top player in a season.

 

Eric Dickerson

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A six-time Pro Bowler, who led the NFL in rushing four times, Dickerson was one of the most unstoppable runners of the 1980s. His best season came in 1984, when he set the record for the most rushing yards in a season, with 2,105 – a record that continues to stand. But at the moment, he still finished second MVP voting behind Dan Marino’s equally historic 5,000 yard passing season. Overall, Dickerson finished in the top three of MVP voting in three of his first four seasons.

 

Marcell Dionne

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An incredibly productive and consistent goal-scorer in the early days of the Los Angeles Kings, Dionne ranks fifth all-time in goals and sixth all-time in points. While he won a pair of Lady Byng Trophies and Lester Pearson Awards, as well as an Art Ross Trophy, he was shut out of claiming the Hart Memorial due to his career crossing over largely with that of none other than nine-time winner Wayne Gretzky.

 

Clyde Drexler

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The shadow of Michael Jordan stood tall over the career of Drexler’s nearly from start to finish. After Portland passed drafting Jordan in the 1984 Draft –a year after taking Drexler— the comparisons started and never stopped. And while Clyde easily had a Hall of Fame career, making 10 All-Star Games, five All-NBA teams, and lifting the Trail Blazers to becoming perennial contenders. Yet at his peak moments, there was always Jordan standing in the way of him reaching the summit. This happened twice in 1992 when Drexler finished as runner-up to Jordan for MVP and lost to his Bulls in the NBA Finals.

 

Ron Francis

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While Francis was never the best player in the NHL and at times the third, to fourth-best player on his own team (granted, he played on some REALLY good Penguins squads), one doesn’t reach fourth all-time in points without putting some serious work in. Over the course of his 23 seasons, Francis topped 100 points thrice and led the league in assists on two occasions as well, including assisting on 48 goals in 44 games in 1995.

 

Tommie Frazier

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The maestro of Nebraska’s unstoppable rushing attack of the early 90s, Frazier went 45-4 over four years at the helm for the Cornhuskers. He led the Husker to three National Championship Games and won two. En route to his second title in 1995, he threw for 17 TDs and ran for 14 more within an offense that averaged 400 rushing yards per game. Still, Frazier finished behind Ohio State’s Eddie George for honors, sealing his status as the greatest Heisman runner-up of all time.

 

Brittney Griner

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Griner is one of –if not the— most dominant interior forces in the history of women’s basketball. She has led the WNBA in block shots in seven of her eight seasons and owns both the single-season and per-game all-time records in the process. She led the league in scoring as well in 2019 and helped the Phoenix Mercury to a title in her second season. Despite these accolades, she has yet to claim an MVP.

 

Tony Gwynn

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An eight-time batting champion who owned a career .338 average in route to 3,141 hits, Gwynn was one of the most revered hitters in the history game. Gwynn hit over .350 during six of his eight batting title seasons and finished third in 1984 when he turned in a career-best 213 hits. Perhaps he would have ascended to the MVP mountaintop had the 1994 season not ended due to strike, when he was hitting .394 with a legitimate shot at the first .400 season since 1941.

 

John Havlicek

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Hondo spent his entire 16-year career with the Boston Celtics, making 13 All-Star teams and winning eight NBA Finals, in the process. Between 1967 and 1973, he averaged 24 points, 7.5 rebounds, and six assists, while regularly making the All-Defense Team, largely before individual defensive stats were compiled. Yet between this stretch, his best MVP finish was fourth place in ’72. He still finished his career as the Celtics’ all-time leader in points and games played.

 

Bo Jackson

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Very few athletes could legitimately stake a claim that they could have been an MVP in two sports. But then again, there’s only one Bo Jackson. A devastating hip injury ended his NFL career after just three seasons, but he averaged nearly 5.5 yards per carry for the Oakland Raiders and had the NFL’s longest rushing touchdown in three of his four seasons. Simultaneously with the Kansas City Royals, he hit over 20 home runs four times, topped 20 stolen bases twice, and was named MVP of the All-Star Game in 1989. The sky was truly the limit for this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.

 

Derek Jeter

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There was no better player in history in the postseason than Jeter, who owns 10 postseason records and has five World Series titles to his credit. However, he was no slouch during the regular season either, as his 3,465 hits are the most by a shortstop in history and sixth-most in history. The Captain finished in the top three in MVP voting in 1998, 2006 and 2009, but never took it home himself. However, the consummate team player without a doubt values the MVP he earned in the World Series in 2000 more than anything earned via the first 162 games.

 

Al Kaline

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After breaking in with the Tigers as an 18-year-old, Kaline would compile 18 All-Star appearances and 10 Gold Gloves over the next 22 years in Detroit. The ever-consistent Kaline topped 3,000 hits, finished one home run shy of 400, and finished inside the top five of AL MVP voting four times. However, for believers in a big market bias, Kaline certainly could be the poster boy for being victimized by that. He finished behind a Yankee in MVP voting –be it Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, or Elston Howard – in eight of 10 years between 1954 and 1962.

 

Jason Kidd

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In 2002, Kidd came close to becoming the first point guard since Magic Johnson in 1990 to win NBA MVP. Kidd averaged 14.7 points, alongside 9.9 assists and 7 rebounds per game, pulling the Nets to a 26-game improvement and into their first NBA Finals in franchise history. However, he narrowly finished in second place next to Tim Duncan.

 

Ray Lewis

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Only one linebacker –the immortal Lawrence Taylor— has ever won MVP during the Super Bowl era, and no interior backer has ever come close. That is highlighted by the dubious exclusion of Lewis from the MVP voting ranks over his dominant 17-year career, where he received a grand total of three MVP votes. This despite the fact he led not one, but two dominant stretches of defensive brilliance for the Baltimore Ravens, made 12 Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro teams, a pair of Defensive Player of the Year nods, and two Super Bowl trophies.

 

Pedro Martinez

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There is a belief among some that in baseball, the Most Valuable Player Award is for everyday players and the Cy Young Award is the equivalent for pitchers. Thus, no pitcher should win MVP. In 1998, Martinez showed how ridiculous of a notion that was, when he turned in one of the most dominant performances in MLB history. He went 23-4, with a 2.07 ERA on the year, striking out 313 while walking only 37. This led Pedro to receive the most first-place votes for MVP, but still not winning the award after being left off the ballot completely by two ‘traditionalist’ voters.

 

Tracy McGrady

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After reaching the NBA straight from high school, McGrady quickly transformed himself into one of the game’s elite scoring guards of all time. He won consecutive scoring titles in 2003 and 2004, amid a stretch of averaging better than 24 points per game for seven seasons. While he finished in the top 10 of MVP voting for six out of seven seasons between 2001 and 2008, he never climbed higher than fourth place.

 

Reggie Miller

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One of the great big-moment performers in NBA history, Miller provided for some of the most memorable playoff moments of the 1990s. But despite retiring as the NBA’s all-time leader in three-pointers made and being selected to five All-Star teams, Miller only received MVP votes in two seasons, 1998 and 2000, finishing outside of the top 10 both times.

 

Warren Moon

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Moon’s inclusion here isn’t completely accurate, as he did win an MVP during his prolific run within the CFL. However, during his brilliant 17-year NFL career, which saw Moon throw for over 49,000 yards, 291 touchdowns, and make nine Pro Bowls, he never finished higher than third in MVP voting. That came in 1990, when Moon’s 4,689 passing yards were the third-highest single-season total in history at the time, highlighted by a 527 yard game in December via the Kansas City Chiefs.

 

Randy Moss

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A sensation from the moment he first lined up in the NFL, Moss went on to become the most exciting pass catcher in the history of the game. He led the league in receiving touchdowns in five different seasons, including setting a single-season record in 2007 with 23. Although he places in the top five all-time in receiving TDS and yards, the six-time Pro Bowler never finished as an MVP finalist.

 

David Ortiz

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One of the most prolific, big-moment producers of all time, Ortiz’s 541 home runs are the most by any player who spent at least 50% of his career as a designated hitter. Yet at the same time, no DH has ever won the MVP award, largely due to the odd notion that the role is for a specialist & doesn’t hold the overall value as a positional player. So, despite Ortiz having three seasons for 40+ home runs, 100+ RBI, and a .300 average, he never finished higher than second in AL MVP voting.

 

Chris Paul

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If his 2021 season spent rejuvenating the Phoenix Suns proved anything, even in his mid-30s, the MVP is not outside of CP3’s reach. Yet even in the point guard-driven era, he played a huge role in pioneering –where four PGs have won MVP since 2000— Paul is yet to capture one himself. Still, he has finished in the top 10 in MVP Award voting in nine different seasons, has taken five different teams to the playoffs, and sits within the top 10 all-time in steals and assists.

 

Manny Ramirez

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Manny was one of the most prolific hitters of all time. Yet despite his regularly stunning efforts at plate, highlighted by a 165 RBI season in 1999, a .349 batting title in 2002, and five years of 40 or more home runs, there was always a situation that had him fall just outside of the top of the MVP ballot. In 1999, he fell third behind the controversial Ivan Rodriguez/Pedro Martinez vote. In 2002, a hamstring injury cost him over a month. In 2008, his most dominant run came following a trade to the Dodgers, where he hit .396 with 17 home runs in 53 games but fell behind a potent Albert Pujols season.

 

Jerry Rice

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The hands-down greatest pass catcher of all time, Rice hasn’t played in 16 years and still owns 13 NFL receiving records. With 10 First-Team All-Pro selections, 13 Pro Bowls, and 3 Super Bowl titles, it’s ridiculous that one of the greatest impact players of all-time was never named Most Valuable Player, but along the way helped Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Rich Gannon to five wins as their primary target. Among his many standout campaigns that went unawarded were his record-setting 22 touchdowns in 1987, as well as his 122 catch and 1,848-yard 1995 season.

 

Mariano Rivera

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Four relief pitchers have won MVP honors in MLB history, but stunningly the consensus greatest reliever of them all never finished higher than ninth in the voting. There is no shortage of incredible seasons from Rivera, who owned a 2.21 lifetime ERA in route to a record of 652 career saves. Rivera turned in six seasons of at least 40 saves with a sub 2.00 ERA, but never was truly given credit for the impact that carried on shaping the Yankee dynasty he helped to co-author. And if that wasn’t enough, Rivera somehow never even finished higher than third in voting for the “pitcher’s MVP” via the Cy Young Award either.

 

Patrick Roy

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Hands down the greatest goalie to never win an MVP, the only reason why Roy’s mantle doesn’t have a Hart Trophy on it is the parallel presence of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux over the course of his career. His excellence in the net was instead awarded by three Vezina Trophies and five Jennings Trophies, as well as his three Conn Smythe Trophies he won during his four Stanley Cup victories.

 

Deion Sanders

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Throughout the early 90s, wherever ‘Primetime’ went, titles were not too far behind. Few players ever changed the game more than Sanders did at cornerback, where his presence alone cut the field in half. That’s because Sanders had a knack for turning defensive stands into points on the board. He was at his peak powers in 1994, when returned half of his six interceptions for touchdowns and totaled over 300 yards of an interception return. For his career, Neon Deion found the endzone 22 times – with 18 coming via interception, punt, or kickoff return.

 

Isiah Thomas

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One of the consummate underdogs in NBA history, the tough-as-nails leader of the ‘Bad Boys’ Detroit Pistons teams simply played at the wrong time for the MVP to land with him. His career intersected the primes of both Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, as well as the rise of Michael Jordan, a trio that combined to win MVP in nine of his Isiah’s 13 seasons. He did win All-Star MVP in 1984 and ’86, and more importantly, NBA Finals MVP in 1990.

 

Tina Thompson

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Thompson entered the WNBA as the first #1 overall pick in league history and went on to win four consecutive titles with the Houston Comets. Along the way, she became the league’s all-time leading scorer, a distinction she held for 10 years. Despite this, she never claimed the league’s MVP, often overshadowed by teammates Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes, who combined for five MVP seasons while partnering with Thompson.

 

John Stockton

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It is not surprising that Stockton never won MVP, as his entire legacy is based on how much he gave to –and took from— others. The scrappy point guard spent his entire 19-year career with the Utah Jazz, becoming the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals in the process. The 10-time All-Star and nine-time assist champ received votes in 12 separate seasons but did some of his best work in helping Karl Malone to claim honors MVP twice.

 

Dwyane Wade

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A three-time NBA Champion and eight-time All-NBA selection, Wade is the all-time leader in nearly everything that matters for the Miami Heat. He led the league in scoring in 2009, a year where he finished third in MVP voting, the best finish of his career. Perhaps ‘Flash’ could have continued to rise to claim a few MVP seasons, but he spent the heart of his career pursuing titles alongside LeBron James, who won consecutive MVPs in 2009 and ’10 alongside Wade.

 

Jerry West

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Isn’t it ironic that West never won MVP in a league that his silhouette is the logo of the league? An All-Star in all 14 of his seasons, West was the first player to claim both scoring and assist title in his career, West topped 30 points per game in four different seasons, but saw Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell take home the hardware in three of those four campaigns. Despite never winning the full season award, West does remain the only player in history to win Finals MVP for a losing team in 1969.

 

Reggie White

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The Minister of the Defense’s exclusion from the ranks of the NFL’s Most Valuable Players is an unequivocal indictment of the bias against defensive players winning the award. White was a force of nature on the defensive lines of the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, and briefly the Carolina Panthers. He reached double-digits in sacks in all but three of his 15 seasons and recorded 21 sacks in a 12-game season in 1987. He retired as the all-time sacks leader with 197 and averaged a ridiculous 0.83 sacks per game for his career.

 

Russell Wilson

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Being a victim of several circumstances has landed Wilson here. Much of this comes due to his early years running parallel with the primes of Brady and Manning, then regularly contending with a contemporary in Aaron Rodgers. Finally, add in a dash of career-year breakouts from Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, then up-and-comers such as Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, and it is understandable how an MVP nod has eluded the ultra-consistent Wilson. However, armed with a more aggressive offense in recent years than ever before, time will tell if Wilson’s day in the MVP sun is still yet to come.

 

Vince Young

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Young was a force of nature in 2005, totaling over 4,000 yards and 38 touchdowns for the Texas Longhorns. But despite his dominant season, Young finished as runner-up for the Heisman behind USC’s Reggie Bush. Young got a chance to exact some revenge against Bush’s USC team in the Rose Bowl and didn’t waste the opportunity. Young was unstoppable in Pasadena, throwing for 267 yards, while rushing for another 200 and three touchdowns, keying a huge upset of the defending National Champions to bring the title back to Austin – in lieu of the Heisman that escaped him.

 

Steve Yzerman

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Yzerman won three Stanley Cups over a six-year span between 1997 and 2002, and took home the Conn Smythe Trophy in ’98, affirming himself as one of the great championship leaders of all time. However, long before those days, he failed to be awarded hockey’s MVP for any of his greatest individual seasons, which came amid six consecutive 100-point seasons from 1988 through 1993. His highest finish came during the 1988-89 season, when he finished third behind Gretzky and Lemieux, despite scoring 155 points on 65 goals and 90 assists.


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