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Tim Benz: Best Pittsburgh athletes who didn’t win a championship here |
Breakfast With Benz

Tim Benz: Best Pittsburgh athletes who didn’t win a championship here

Tim Benz
| Wednesday, October 31, 2018 6:39 a.m
Barry Bonds left the Pirates after the 1992 season to sign with the San Francisco Giants.
Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Ralph Kiner hits a single during game against Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh

The Sporting News put together a list of the top 25 athletes never to win a championship.

There are a few players with Pittsburgh ties on it: Barry Bonds, Jarome Iginla and Dan Marino.

What if we tried to come up with a similar list, but we restrict it to Pittsburgh athletes only? We’ve been pretty lucky. Most of the best to come through town have exited winners. There aren’t a lot of stars who came up short on a team level such as Barry Sanders, Ted Williams and Karl Malone around these parts.

But there are still plenty of names we can come up with who were legends that didn’t complete their careers with a title.

Let’s set some rules.

• We are going to restrict the analysis to the time served by players while they were in Pittsburgh only.

• If a player won a ring before arriving in Pittsburgh — or after leaving Pittsburgh — they are still eligible.

• If the player is still with a Pittsburgh team, they aren’t under consideration. That means, the likes of Antonio Brown, Maurkice Pouncey and Le’Veon Bell don’t count.

• We are restricting debate to the three major pro sports teams: the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates. Let’s not get bogged down on Penn State versus Pitt versus West Virginia, etc.

• Longevity matters in this argument. So guys such as Kevin Greene and Pierre Larouche didn’t make the cut.

26. Jason Gildon

Only James Harrison recorded more sacks as a Steeler. Three Pro Bowls and an All-Pro on his resume. Won a coin flip over Randy Carlyle for the last spot, who won the 1984 Norris Trophy. This is a line I am adding to this story because I’m already getting flooded with Penguins fans who are mad he’s off the list.

(Gildon had been No. 25 until I realized I made an obvious omission in the top 10. You’ll see that later.)

25. Tony Peña

Four All-Star games and three Gold Gloves on some of the worst Pirates teams ever.

24. Louis Lipps

Ranks fifth in Steelers history in receiving yards, catches and return yards.

23. Syl Apps

Exactly 500 points as a Penguin. The only Penguins with more assists than him are named Lemieux, Crosby, Jagr, Malkin and Francis.

22. Brian Giles

Pirates all-time leader in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

21. Levon Kirkland

All-Pro and second-team 1990s All-Decade at inside linebacker.

20. Carnell Lake

Three Pro Bowls. Maybe the most versatile defensive back the Steelers have ever had.

19. Andy Van Slyke

Three-time All Star and four Gold Gloves during his years in Pittsburgh.

18. Bobby Bonilla

Four-time All Star with the Pirates of the 1990s. Eventually won a championship with the Marlins in 1997. And based on his Mets contract, I think he just got another million dollar check because I just wrote his name.

17. Doug Drabek

The most recent Pirates Cy Young Award winner (1990).

16. John Henry Johnson

Until Jerome Bettis came along, it was Franco Harris and Johnson atop every Steelers rushing category.

15. Lloyd Waner

“Little Poison” played 17 years as a Pirate en route to Cooperstown. Hit .319 in a Bucs uniform.

14. Elbie Nickel

Played way back in the 1940s and 1950s. Yet, he is in the top 10 of every major receiving category for the Steelers.

13. Wilbur Cooper

Only 200-win pitcher in Pirates history. Joined the Bucs three years after the 1909 World Series. Left for Chicago the year before they won the World Series in 1925.

12. Arky Vaughan

A Hall of Famer, Vaughn hit .385 in 1935. It was one of the best seasons in the history of the sport. The shortstop led baseball in batting average, OPS., slugging, on-base percentage, runs and walks.

11. Greg Lloyd

A five-time All-Pro. Had it not been for Rod Woodson, he may be remembered as the face of the Steelers of the 1990s.

10. Jean Pronovost

See below.

9. Rick Kehoe

Kehoe and Pronovost rank Nos. 1 and 2 in just about every major offensive category among the pre-Stanley Cup Penguins.

8. Jack Butler

Great Steelers defensive back from the 1950s. Who I somehow forgot when this list first published. So he went from not making the list to being in the top 10. High praise, indeed.

7. Ernie Stautner

A 10-time All-Pro and NFL Hall of Famer. He’s the unquestioned best player in Steelers history prior to the drafting of Mean Joe Greene.

6. Andrew McCutchen

The NL MVP in 2013, he piloted the Pirates out of their 20 years of losing baseball. But he never experienced anything beyond a wild-card win in the postseason.

Cutch was the best Pirate since Barry Bonds left for San Francisco, and he left a shockingly similar on-field legacy.

5. Paul Waner

“Big Poison” joined the Pirates the year after the 1925 World Series win. He has the highest batting average in Pirates history (.340). Waner won the 1927 MVP.

4. Rod Woodson

He won a Super Bowl in Baltimore. That docks him points, right? Otherwise, I’d put him in front of Demontti Dawson.


Woodson was the 1993 Defensive Player of the Year, and he was an All-Pro six times. He’s in Canton.

The only Steeler to have played the corner better was Mel Blount. Woodson was part of a lot of winning between 1986 and 1995. He got to a Super Bowl here. But that bid came up short in Arizona.

3. Dermontti Dawson

Thirteen years a Steeler. Ten in a row without missing a game. Six first-team All-Pros. Seven Pro Bowls. A gold jacket. And, I believe, the best Steelers offensive lineman in history. But he never won a Super Bowl.

2. Barry Bonds

The steroid allegations came after he left Pittsburgh. Bonds had more raw talent than any baseball player to put on a Pirates uniform. He won two MVPs, three Gold Gloves and three division championships from 1990 to 1992. He was the best player in the game for, at least, three of his seven years in black and gold.

Yet it never coalesced for him in three consecutive NLCS appearances.

1. Ralph Kiner

In almost exactly the same number of seasons and almost the same amount of games as Bonds, Kiner had more hits, homers and RBIs than Bonds in his Pirates career. His on-base percentage, OPS and batting average were better. And whatever he won, he also won it basically by himself while playing on rotten Pirates teams. From 1946-52, Kiner’s clubs finished above .500 only once. He led the National League in home runs every year he was in Pittsburgh.

But Kiner could never hoist a World Series trophy.

Although, he was romantically linked to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner and Janet Leigh. So I’m sure men of his era considered him a champion anyway.

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