By Aaron Charles @aaroncharleskc on December 3, 2013
The terms "underrated" and "superstar" do not normally make sense together, but in terms of sports, the two fit perfectly. The underrated label gets tied to athletes because they have been overshadowed by teammates, fellow peers, or because of their modest and humble nature. While any list of underrated athletes will cause controversy and some anger, everyone's definition of underrated is different. Here are my 25 choices.
Jack Morris started the most games, pitched the most innings, and had the most wins of any pitcher in the 1980s, yet he has been overlooked by most baseball people, including the Baseball Hall of Fame. Morris won four World Series titles on three different teams, and his performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series will be remembered forever. Since 2000, Morris has been denied by the HOF.
Leroy Kelly had the unenviable task of replacing the greatest running back of all time in Jim Brown, but Kelly was just as productive as Brown was in Cleveland. Overall, Kelly gained 12,330 all-purpose yards, scored 90 touchdowns in his career, and made six Pro Bowls. Kelly led the NFL in rushing for two consecutive seasons (1967-68), and in rushing touchdowns for three (1966-68).
Curtis Martin retired as the NFL's fourth all-time leading rusher, but he is often forgotten about in terms of the greatest running backs of all time. In his career, Martin ran for over 1,000 yards in his first 10 seasons, joining only Barry Sanders, and served as a key player on New England's Super Bowl 31 team. Martin joined the Jets in 1998, and in his first season led the Jets to the AFC Championship game.
Darrell Green played in the NFL in three decades and recorded an interception in 19 straight seasons, yet when the greatest corners of all time are discussed, Green doesn't enter the conversation. Playing all 20 seasons in Washington, Green helped the Redskins reach three Super Bowls, winning two in 1987 and 1991. Green was a seven-time Pro Bowler, was selected to the 1990s All-Decade team, and recorded 54 career interceptions.
Rod Woodson excelled on four teams and helped lead three to the Super Bowl, but like Green before him, Woodson gets overlooked in terms of the greatest cornerbacks ever. While Deion Sanders, Mel Blount and Night Train Lane get more accolades and notoriety, Woodson is one of the best ever. Woodson ranks third all-time in interceptions with 71, is the leader in career pick sixes with 12, and won Super Bowl 35 with Baltimore.
Dennis Johnson was overlooked during most of his career, especially in Boston, but he was one of the greatest point guards ever. Before he joined the Celtics, Johnsons starred for the Seattle Supersonics, winning the 1979 NBA Finals MVP. After a short stint in Phoenix, Johnson joined a Celtics squad that already had Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Johnson would fly under the radar, and helped the Celtics win two titles.
Frank Thomas became MLB's most underappreciated stars in the 1990s, being overshadowed by alleged steroid users like Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. In 16 seasons with the White Sox, Thomas was a five-time All-Star, a two-time AL MVP and owns several White Sox records. Thomas would win his one and only World Series title in 2005, but he was not on the roster due to injury.
John Stallworth was the forgotten receiver on Pittsburgh's offense in the 1970s, but it was Stallworth who would be the more prolific receiver. With Lynn Swann getting all the headlines, Stallworth was easily the most productive receiver out of the two. Stallworth retired with 537 receptions for 8,723 yards and 63 TDs. If not for Stallworth's performances in Super Bowls 13 and 14, the Steelers wouldn't be what they were in the 70s.
Dennis Rodman was one of the more underappreciated players in NBA history on the court, but his controversial past has made people forget that he was a great player. Rodman earned NBA All-Defensive First Team honors seven times and won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award twice. He also led the NBA in rebounds per game for a record seven consecutive years, and won five NBA championships with Detroit and Chicago.
Orel Hershiser's performance in the 1988 season was completely overshadowed by Kirk Gibson's home run in the World Series, but the Dodgers would not have made it there without Hershiser. The pitcher won the NL Cy Young award, was the 1988 World Series MVP and had a 59 consecutive scoreless inning streak during the season. Hershiser also pitched in two World Series for the Cleveland Indians in 1995 and 1997.
Sam Jones has the second-most championships in NBA history with 10, but he is seldom mentioned among the best players in NBA history. While players like Bob Cousy and Bill Russell were given the majority of the credit for Boston's success, Jones' clutch play also helped the Celtics win several championships. Jones was named to the All-Star team five times and was named to both the 25th and 50th anniversary NBA teams.
Trevor Hoffman became the first player to reach both the 500 and 600-save milestones, and was the all-time leader in saves for six seasons. But, the former San Diego Padre often gets overshadowed by one of the best ever in Mariano Rivera. Hoffman helped the Padres reach their last World Series in 1998. Hoffman retired with MLB records of 15 20-save seasons, 14 30-save seasons, and nine 40-save seasons.
Walt Frazier was the point guard on New York's only two NBA championship teams, yet he was overshadowed on his own teams by great players like Willis Reed and Earl Monroe. Even after having a 36-point, 19-assist, and seven-rebound game in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, Frazier's game was overlooked after Willis Reed's grand entrance. Reed would go on to win the Finals MVP despite not even playing in Games 6 and 7.
Ivan Rodriguez played for six different teams in his 21-year career and led two to the World Series, but Rodriguez is often not mentioned among the greatest catchers in the game's history. He normally takes a backseat to players like Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra and Mike Piazza, but Rodriguez was the more accomplished player. Rodriguez was a 14-time All-Star and won the Gold Glove award 13 times as a catcher.
John Smoltz played behind Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine the majority of his career in Atlanta, but he would last the longest in Atlanta. Not only was Smoltz effective as a starter (213 wins), but he was just as effective as a closer. For three seasons, Smoltz moved to the bullpen and recorded 154 career saves. Smoltz also won the NL Cy Young Award in 1996.
Frank Robinson and the rest of the 1970s Baltimore Orioles have been overlooked in history as one of the best teams, but Robinson was definitely one of the best players. Robinson became the only player to win league MVP honors in both the National and American Leagues. Robinson also won the Triple Crown in 1966, was a member of two World Series teams (the 1966 and 1970 Baltimore Orioles), and was a 14-time All-Star.
Marvin Harrison was one of the quietest superstars in NFL history, making his accomplishments easier to forget. Teamed with Peyton Manning for most of his career in Indianapolis, Harrison holds numerous NFL records, including receptions in a season in 2002 with 143. He had eight consecutive seasons with 10 or more touchdown receptions, and had four 1,400-yard receiving seasons in his career.
Steve Yzerman has not been mentioned among the greats like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, but was just as productive as those two. Yzerman led the Wings to five first-place regular season finishes and three Stanley Cup championships (1997, 1998 and 2002). At the age of 21, Yzerman was named captain of the Red Wings and served that role for two decades.
Moses Malone does not get mentioned among the greatest centers of all time like Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O'Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but Malone, like those three, led two teams to the NBA Finals. After coming out of high school 1974, Malone helped lead the Houston Rockets to the 1981 NBA Finals. In the 1983 NBA Finals, Malone joined the Philadelphia 76ers and helped the 76ers sweep Jabbar and the Lakers.
Franco Harris made the single biggest play in franchise history and helped launch a dynasty, yet when conversations begin about the Steelers in the 1970s, Harris is absent from those conversations. While the Steel Curtain defense and Terry Bradshaw get most of the attention, Harris was the most valuable Steeler. Harris made key plays in each of the Steelers' four Super Bowl wins that vaulted them to team-of-the-decade status.
Steve Largent was Seattle's first superstar, and despite playing with marginal talent around him, he retired as the NFL's all-time leading receiver in several major categories. Despite making the playoffs just four times in his 14-year career, Largent totaled 819 receptions for 13,089 yards and 100 touchdowns. Largent also accumulated these statistics with Jim Zorn and Dave Krieg throwing to him, neither of whom were elite quarterbacks.
Mark Messier spent 25 seasons in the NHL, and for a majority of his career, Messier took a back seat to the greatest player in NHL history in Wayne Gretzky. In Edmonton, Messier won four Stanley Cups, and won two other Cups without Gretzky. Messier won in 1990 with the Oilers, and in 1994 with the New York Rangers. He scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 against the Vancouver Canucks to win the Cup.
Bart Starr quarterbacked the Green Bay Packers' dynasty in the 1960s, but he is seldom given credit for the Packers' success. With Vince Lombardi taking and deserving most of the credit, Starr came up big when it mattered most. Starr won five NFL championships, including the first two Super Bowls, in the decade. Starr was the league MVP in 1966, and was the MVP of Super Bowls I and II.
Tim Duncan's quiet nature and team-first attitude makes his accomplishments seem rather minute, but he will go down as the greatest power forward in NBA history. Duncan is a four-time NBA champion, two-time NBA MVP, and a three-time NBA Finals MVP. He has also been named to 14 NBA All-Star games and is the only player to be selected to both the All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams during each of his first 13 NBA seasons.
Stan Musial is by far the most underrated player in sports history, and if not for playing his entire career in St. Louis, Musial would be talked about more as one of the greatest players. Musial collected 3,630 career hits, 475 home runs, and was named the NL MVP three times. Musial was also a three-time World Series champion, and is tied for the most All-Star game appearances in MLB history with 24.
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