Before I move on from the realm of football, I’m gonna throw in the name Dick Butkus. Nine years’ worth of Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Bears; you’d think: there’s a guy who HAD to have had some playoff success. Think again. He was on some of the worst Bears teams of all time! He didn’t ONCE make the playoffs!
Well, someone had pointed me in the direction of Tony Gwynn for this particular exercise, and while I would give you that he played 20 seasons with only three post-season appearances (that’s pretty bad), considering he’s one of the best hitters the game has ever known (that’s pretty good), he MIGHT fit within my criteria. Except, two of those appearances saw him make it all the way to the World Series (once in 1984 and again in 1998). So, no dice, Gwynn! Coming from a Seattle Mariners fan, you get no sympathy from me!
Ryne Sandberg is more up my alley. He played in 16 Major League seasons (mostly with the hapless Cubs), was also in the Hall of Fame, and only has two playoff appearances to his name (both defeats in the NLCS, back when the NLCS was the first round of the playoffs). But, of course, if you’re going to get into the Chicago Cubs, that’s a PRETTY long list: Sammy Sosa (steroids or no steroids, he was great; 2 playoff appearances), Billy Williams (Hall of Famer, 1 playoff appearance, as a member of the A’s in his penultimate season), Ron Santo (Hall of Famer, no playoff appearances in 15 seasons), Ernie Banks (Hall of Famer, Mr. Cub, no playoff appearances in 19 seasons), and there are probably a bunch of others. The Cubs, after their last World Series win in 1908, generally made the series again at least once a decade through 1945, but then there’s been nothing since. So, if you want to pick through all the Cubs greats since 1945, be my guest.
Jeff Bagwell was another name given to me, but I’m sorry to say, the guy was on some PRETTY great teams. He made the playoffs in 6 of his 15 years, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but coming from a Mariners fan, I would KILL for those types of numbers. And, he even made the World Series in 2005, getting swept by the White Sox. So, nuts to Bagwell and Biggio and anyone else who was great on those Astros.
The last baseball guy I’m going to get into is Mr. Don Mattingly. Donnie Baseball! He played for the Yankees for 14 seasons and was generally beloved. He’s a VERY borderline Hall of Famer who thus far hasn’t been voted in. Anyway, you’d think with this being the Yankees that OF COURSE he would have had his chances. No such luck. He made the playoffs exactly once in his career, in his final season: 1995. I think you remember what happened to the Yankees in 1995. For the record, at the age of 34, in a season that saw him bat .288, he was 10 for 25 against the Mariners in that ALDS, with a homer, four doubles, and 6 RBI. It’d be a shame … if he wasn’t a Yankee.
Rounding things out with the NBA (because I’m sure there a million billion other baseball players out there who would qualify; so if you see some, say some), I really REALLY wanted to put Allen Iverson on this list, because any greatness achieved by one of his teams was achieved BECAUSE of Allen Iverson. But, I just can’t bring myself to do it. No matter how daunting it would have been for him to win that series, reaching the Finals against the Lakers automatically disqualifies him.
So, instead, I’m going to start with one of my favorite non-Sonics of all time: Dominique Wilkins. Dude played 15 seasons of Hall of Fame ball (mostly with the Atlanta Hawks), never did make the Finals, made the playoffs 10 times (the last two as a reserve for other teams), and was generally bounced from the playoffs pretty quick.
Now, before I go any further, I gotta let you know that I had to expand the parameters for the NBA. Because, let’s face it, all it takes is one great player and you’re pretty much in the playoffs. They take, like, half the league! So, it’s going to be pretty tough to find a legitimately GREAT basketball player who didn’t at least single-handedly lead his team to a bunch of playoff appearances (even if they were mostly first-round exits like with Nique).
So, in that mold, Chris Mullin is a Hall of Famer who played the bulk of his career with Golden State (with a little detour near the end with the Pacers). 8 of his 16 seasons saw him in the playoffs, with nothing but a loss in the Conference Finals to show for it (in 1998, with the Pacers).
Finally, because I’m tired of trying to think of great NBA players who have never made the Finals, I present to you Chris Webber. He made a couple of Conference Finals appearances, but no NBA Finals in his 15 seasons. Granted, 10 of those years saw him in the playoffs, but again, this is the NBA. Everyone gets a ribbon.