Greatest Players Who Never Won a Championship

May 28, 2019 by Grant Suneson

Winning a championship is the ultimate goal in sports — and the most difficult one to achieve. Many great athletes put up impressive statistics and earn personal accolades, but never achieve the team goal of a title.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the careers of the greatest athletes of all time on the Sports Reference family of sites to determine the greatest players who never won a championship.

Some great players fail to win championships because they play for mismanaged, dysfunctional, or financially challenged teams. Other star athletes can find themselves on teams that are good, but not quite the best. John Stockton and Karl Malone were arguably one of the greatest tandems in NBA history with the Utah Jazz, but they could never win a ring as Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls defeated them in back-to-back NBA Finals in the 1990s.

Some franchises, like the Minnesota Vikings, have had some quality teams, but for whatever reason could never break through and win a championship — despite having four Super Bowl appearances and some great players like Randy Moss and Randall Cunningham. The 1998 Vikings seemed to have the best shot, with a high-powered offense and a 15-1 record, but they lost in the NFC championship game. They are now considered one of the greatest teams that failed to win a championship.

While a good athlete should make his teammates better, one player can’t be solely responsible for the fortunes of an entire franchise. Great players can have great careers even if they never win a championship. For many, the ultimate prize is induction into their sport’s hall of fame — an honor bestowed on many athletes who never won a title. All the athletes on this list have either already been inducted or have a great shot at becoming Hall of Famers in the near future.

The one exception is Barry Bonds — although he is one of the most decorated baseball players of all time, he is thought to have used performance-enhancing drugs. Though this stigma may keep him out of the Hall of Fame, Bonds’ seven MVP awards and MLB-leading 762 home runs are incredible feats. The one thing he never accomplished was winning a championship, preventing him from being recognized as one of the most successful athletes of the century.

Click here to see the greatest players who never won a championship.

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30. Juan Marichal
> Position, team(s): Pitcher: San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox
> Career: 1960-1975
> Accolades: 9x All-Star, ERA title, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 2

Juan Marichal was one of the MLB’s top pitchers in the 1960s, making eight straight All-Star teams from 1962 to 1969 for the San Francisco Giants. Marichal mostly played in an era when only two teams, the American and National League champions, made the postseason. San Francisco made the playoffs twice in Marichal’s Hall of Fame career, losing the 1962 World Series to the Yankees in seven games and losing the 1971 NLCS to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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29. Tony Gonzalez
> Position, team(s): Tight end: Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons
> Career: 1997-2013
> Accolades: 14x Pro Bowl, 6x All-Pro, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 6

With over 15,000 receiving yards in his career, Tony Gonzalez is far and away the most productive tight end in NFL history. He made 14 Pro Bowls, earned six All-Pro designations, and was a first-ballot NFL Hall of Famer. But in a team sport like football, he could only do so much. Gonzalez was on six playoff teams — three as a Kansas City Chief and three as an Atlanta Falcon. He was only part of one playoff victory, in 2012 as an Atlanta Falcon at age 36.

Source: Rich Lam / Getty Images

28. Daniel & Henrik Sedin
> Position, team(s): Left wing / center: Vancouver Canucks,
> Career: 2000-2018
> Accolades: 2x All-Star, 1x Ross Trophy
> Playoff appearances: 11

Twin brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin were drafted with back-to-back picks in 1999 and played together for 17 seasons as Vancouver Canucks. Both made two All-Star teams and each earned a Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer — Henrik in 2010 and Daniel in 2011. Henrik was the only one to also receive the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP. The Sedin twins made 11 playoff appearances, coming closest to winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, but losing a seven-game final to the Boston Bruins. Though they never hoisted the Stanley Cup, the Sedins did win Olympic gold medals as members of Sweden’s 2006 championship team.

Source: Masterpress / Getty Images

27. Ichiro Suzuki
> Position, team(s): Outfielder: Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees
> Career: 2001-2019
> Accolades: 10x All-Star, 10x Gold Glove, MVP
> Playoff appearances: 2

Ichiro Suzuki was an instant success coming from Japan to the Seattle Mariners in 2001. He was one of the greatest rookies of all time, earning Rookie of the Year and AL MVP honors. The Mariners won a staggering 116 games that season but lost in the ALCS to the New York Yankees. Suzuki would make the All-Star team and win a Gold Glove each of his first 10 seasons but fail to make his second postseason appearance until 2012, when he was a member of the Yankees. Suzuki again lost in the ALCS — the last playoff appearance of his career.

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Source: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

26. Dominique Wilkins
> Position, team(s): Small forward: Atlanta Hawks
> Career: 1982-1999
> Accolades: 9x All-Star, 1x scoring leader, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 10

Dominique Wilkins was an exciting player, winning two Slam Dunk contests. He was also a terrific scorer, averaging nearly 25 points per game in his career. Wilkins spent nearly all of his Hall of Fame career with the Atlanta Hawks — a historically downtrodden franchise that has not won an NBA championship since the 1950s, when it was located in St. Louis. Wilkins played well in the postseason, but his team could never make it past the second round of the playoffs.

Source: Jay Publishing / Wikimedia Commons

25. Harmon Killebrew
> Position, team(s): Third base: Minnesota Twins, Washington Senators
> Career: 1954-1975
> Accolades: 13x All-Star, MVP, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 3

Harmon Killebrew was one of baseball’s great sluggers, racking up 573 home runs in his 22 MLB seasons. He was a standout on some last place Washington Senators teams, before the franchise moved to Minnesota and became the Twins. Killebrew played in just one World Series, in 1965, when he and the Twins lost in seven games to Sandy Koufax and the L.A. Dodgers. He made the playoffs again twice in 1969 and 1970 but the Twins were swept in the ALCS both times.

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24. LaDainian Tomlinson
> Position, team(s): Running back: San Diego Chargers, New York Jets
> Career: 2001-2011
> Accolades: 5x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro, MVP, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 6

LaDainian Tomlinson always put up huge numbers as a running back for the San Diego Chargers. He posted over 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first eight seasons — including his 2006 campaign, when he amassed over 1,800 yards, won MVP, and set the NFL record with 28 rushing touchdowns. But his teams could never quite get over the hump in the playoffs, failing to make the Super Bowl despite four straight AFC West titles 2006.

Source: Chris McGrath / Getty Images

23. Ernie Banks
> Position, team(s): First base/Shortstop: Chicago Cubs
> Career: 1953-1971
> Accolades: 11x All-Star, Gold Glove, 2x MVP, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 0

For two decades, Ernie Banks gave Cubs fans something to cheer for, despite the fact that the team was consistently awful in those days. The infielder known as “Mr. Cub” racked up individual honors like 11 All-Star games, a Gold Glove, and two NL MVPs. Despite his greatness, he never played a single postseason game. Banks played from 1953 to 1971 — right in the middle of Chicago’s nearly four-decade playoff drought.

Source: Jim Rogash / Getty Images

22. Randy Moss
> Position, team(s): Wide receiver: Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots
> Career: 1998-2012
> Accolades: 6x Pro Bowl, 4x All-Pro, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 7

Randy Moss racked up over 1,200 receiving yards his first six seasons, making five Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams. Moss was on two of the best teams that failed to win the Super Bowl. In 1998, his Vikings went 15-1 but were upset in the NFC Championship Game by the Atlanta Falcons. In 2007, Moss became a New England Patriot and teamed up with Tom Brady to break the single season receiving touchdown record with 23 scores. The Pats went undefeated in the regular season but lost in the Super Bowl to the underdog New York Giants. In his final season, Moss went to the Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers but again came up just short.

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Source: Marcus Ingram / Getty Images

21. Dikembe Mutombo
> Position, team(s): Center: Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets
> Career: 1991-2009
> Accolades: 8x All-Star, 4x Defensive Player of the Year, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 13

Dikembe Mutombo was one of the all-time great shot blockers in NBA history, earning four Defensive Player of the Year awards and a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame. He is still remembered for his signature finger wag celebration. But Mutombo himself was blocked from winning an NBA championship over and over again. The big man made the playoffs with the Nuggets, Hawks, 76ers, Nets, Knicks, and Rockets but never earned a ring. Mutombo came closest with the 76ers, who lost in the 2001 NBA Finals to the Lakers, and in the 2003 Finals, when his Nets lost in six games to the Spurs.

Source: Brian Bahr / Getty Images

20. Terrell Owens
> Position, team(s): Wide receiver: San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles
> Career: 1996-2010
> Accolades: 6x Pro Bowl, 5x All-Pro, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 8

With nearly 16,000 receiving yards, Terrell Owens has the third most receiving yards in NFL history. He made the playoffs eight times as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys, but he never won a title. T.O. came closest in 2005, when his Eagles played the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Many were surprised he suited up for the game since he required surgery for a broken leg he sustained less than two months before the big game. Owens played and played well, but not well enough to secure a ring, as the Eagles lost 24-21.

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19. Ty Cobb
> Position, team(s): Outfielder: Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Athletics
> Career: 1905-1928
> Accolades: 12x Batting title, MVP, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 3

Ty Cobb is remembered as one of the greatest hitters of all time and the first American League MVP. He batted over .400 three times and won a dozen batting titles on his way to the Hall of Fame. His .366 batting average is still the highest in Major League history. What is often forgotten is that Cobb never won a World Series, losing three straight Fall Classics from 1907 to 1909. In the first two World Series he played, Cobb’s Detroit Tigers lost in five games to the Chicago Cubs. In his final World Series, the Tigers lost in seven to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Source: Jonathan Daniel / Allsport / Getty Images

18. Patrick Ewing
> Position, team(s): Center: New York Knicks, Seattle SuperSonics
> Career: 1985-2002
> Accolades: 11x All-Star, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 14

Patrick Ewing had ample chances to win an NBA championship, making the playoffs 14 times in his 17-year career. But his New York Knicks struggled to beat familiar Eastern Conference foes like Reggie Miller’s Indiana Pacers and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the postseason. He made the NBA Finals just once, in 1994, when his New York Knicks took on the Houston Rockets and lost in seven games. Despite his teams struggles, Ewing generally played well in the playoffs — and his consistent excellence earned him a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Source: Craig Jones / Getty Images / NHLI

17. Eric Lindros
> Position, team(s): Center: Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers
> Career: 1992-2007
> Accolades: 2x All-Star, 1x Hart Trophy, 1x Pearson Trophy, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 6

Eric Lindros was a superstar — when he was healthy. He won the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP at just 22 years old, but the Flyers center struggled with concussions throughout his career, costing him several shots at the Stanley Cup. In addition to injuries, Lindros missed a season over a contract dispute and sat out with the rest of the NHL for the 2004-2005 season because of a lockout. Lindros helped the Flyers make one Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1997, but his team was outmatched by the Detroit Red Wings and swept in four games.

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16. Anthony Munoz
> Position, team(s): Tackle: Cincinnati Bengals
> Career: 1980-1992
> Accolades: 11x Pro Bowl, 9x All-Pro, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 4

Offensive linemen are often the unsung heroes on their teams, but Anthony Munoz earned plenty of personal acclaim. The Cincinnati Bengals left tackle made 11 Pro Bowls, nine All-Pro designations, and he was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame. Munoz played for the Cincinnati Bengals his entire career — a team that has never won the Super Bowl. He did help the Bengals make their only two Super Bowl appearances in 1982 and 1989, but they lost to the San Francisco 49ers both times.

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15. Ken Griffey Jr.
> Position, team(s): Outfielder: Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds
> Career: 1989-2010
> Accolades: 13x All-Star, 10x Gold Glove, MVP, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 3

Though Ken Griffey Jr. was one of baseball’s marquee hitters for two decades, he rarely played on winning teams. As a Seattle Mariner, he made the playoffs just twice, winning one series. Griffey Jr. was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, where he played for more than eight seasons without making the playoffs. After being traded to the Chicago White Sox, the Kid made his third and final postseason appearance, but lost in the first round. Despite his lack of success, Griffey is fondly remembered by baseball fans for his terrific defense, towering home runs, and love for the game. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot.

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14. John Stockton
> Position, team(s): Point guard: Utah Jazz
> Career: 1984-2003
> Accolades: 10x All-Star, 9x assist leader, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 19

John Stockton epitomizes what it means to be a point guard — distributing the ball to his teammates better than any other player. He has more career assists than any other player by a wide margin. He also played great defense and owns the NBA record for most career steals. Stockton played for the Utah Jazz for 19 seasons and made the playoffs every year. Despite this, he never won a title. His attempts were consistently thwarted by teams like the Rockets and Trail Blazers in the West. His Jazz made two Finals appearances, losing to Michael Jordan’s Bulls both times.

Source: Kellie Landis / Getty Images

13. Pavel Bure
> Position, team(s): Right wing: Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers
> Career: 1991-2003
> Accolades: 3x All-Star, 1x Calder Trophy, 2x Richard Trophy, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 5

Pavel Bure was one of the most potent goal scoring threats in NHL history. He led the league in goals three times — once with the Vancouver Canucks and twice with the Florida Panthers. He racked up 779 points in 702 games played. Bure played in the playoffs in each of his first four seasons, coming closest to the Stanley Cup in 1994, when his Canucks lost in seven games to the New York Rangers. His final postseason appearance came in 2000, when he and the Florida Panthers suffered a first-round sweep.

Source: NNO / Wikimedia Commons

12. Carl Yastrzemski
> Position, team(s): Outfielder: Boston Red Sox
> Career: 1961-1983
> Accolades: 18x All-Star, 7x Gold Glove, MVP, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 2

Carl Yastrzemski never won a World Series, but he did help take the Boston Red Sox from a hapless franchise to serious contenders. Before Yaz played in Boston, the Sox hadn’t reached the postseason since 1946. His best year came in 1967, when he won the Triple Crown by leading the AL with 44 home runs, 121 RBIs, and a .326 batting average. That year, Boston made its first World Series appearance in over 20 years, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. He reached the World Series just one more time in his career, again losing in seven games, this time to the Cincinnati Reds, in 1975.

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Source: The Sporting News Collection / Wikimedia Commons

11. George Gervin
> Position, team(s): Shooting guard: San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls
> Career: 1973-1986
> Accolades: 12x All-Star, 5x All-NBA 1st Team, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 13

Known as “Iceman,” George Gervin was one cool customer. After dominating the ABA in his early years, he proved he could keep pace in the tougher NBA as well. Gervin played for the San Antonio Spurs for 12 seasons, making the All-Star team each year. He also led the NBA in scoring average four times. Gervin maintained a high scoring average in the playoffs, but he never had the pieces around him needed to win a title. In fact, Gervin never even made it to the NBA Finals. He played one final season in Chicago with the Bulls and second-year player Michael Jordan, but the Bulls were swept by the Celtics.

Source: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

10. Dan Marino
> Position, team(s): Quarterback: Miami Dolphins
> Career: 1983-1999
> Accolades: 9x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro, MVP, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 10

By the time he retired, Dan Marino held the records for most passing yards and passing touchdowns in NFL history. Marino revolutionized the NFL, transforming it into a pass-first league with frequent downfield throws. He led the league in passing yards and touchdowns three of his first four seasons. Quarterback is the most important position in football, and Marino’s greatness gave his Miami Dolphins the chance to be successful. But of his 10 postseason trips, none resulted in a title. Marino made the Super Bowl just once, in 1985, but he played poorly — tossing two interceptions in a 38-16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

9. Roy Worters
> Position, team(s): Goaltender: New York Americans, Pittsburgh Pirates
> Career: 1925-1937
> Accolades: 2x All-Star, 1x Hart Trophy, 1x Vezina Trophy, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 4

Roy Worters was one of the early, great goaltenders in NHL history. His 2.28 career goals against average still stands as one of the 10 lowest of all time. In his incredible 1928-1929 season with the New York Americans, Worters allowed just 1.15 goals per game, one of the lowest averages for a starting goalie in NHL history. This performance earned him the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP. And though he played in an era with only a handful of teams, he never earned a Stanley Cup, bowing out early in all four of his playoff appearances.

Source: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

8. Bruce Smith
> Position, team(s): Defensive end: Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins
> Career: 1985-2003
> Accolades: 11x Pro Bowl, 8x All-Pro, 2x Defensive Player of the Year, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 10

Bruce Smith is one of the most feared pass rushers of all time. He still holds the NFL record with 200 career sacks. He was a key member of the Buffalo Bills teams that won four straight AFC Championships from 1991 to 1994 but lost in all four Super Bowls. The Bills narrowly lost the 1991 Super Bowl on a missed field goal to the Giants, 20-19. In the next three Super Bowls Buffalo appeared in, the team was clobbered — once by the Redskins and twice by the Cowboys. Late in his career, Smith played a few seasons with the Washington Redskins, but he never made the postseason there.

Source: Steven Carter / Flickr

7. Brad Park
> Position, team(s): Defenseman: New York Rangers, Boston Bruins
> Career: 1968-1985
> Accolades: 7x All-Star, 1x Masterton Trophy, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 17

Though he was sometimes overshadowed by Bobby Orr, Brad Park is still considered one of the finest defensemen in NHL history. Park made seven All-Star teams before he turned 30 and, perhaps most impressively, made the playoffs each season of his 17-year career. Park made the Stanley Cup Finals once with the New York Rangers and twice with the Boston Bruins, losing each time.

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Source: Kevin Rushforth / Wikimedia Commons

6. Barry Bonds
> Position, team(s): Outfielder: San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates
> Career: 1986-2007
> Accolades: 14x All-Star, 8x Gold Glove, 7x MVP
> Playoff appearances: 7

Baseball fans have mixed feelings about Barry Bonds — his talent was undeniable, but steroid allegations have tarnished his legacy. What can’t be debated is that he put up astonishing statistics. He holds the MLB records for both home runs and walks, as pitchers were reluctant to pitch to a hitter of his caliber. Bonds won seven NL MVP awards. No one else has more than three. Bonds made it to the postseason seven times — and lost in six in the opening series. His Giants made it to the World Series in 2002 but lost to the Anaheim Angels.

Source: Scott Halleran / Getty Images

5. Charles Barkley
> Position, team(s): Power forward: Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns
> Career: 1984-2000
> Accolades: 11x All-Star, MVP, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 13

Charles Barkley used his efficient shooting and aggressive rebounding to become one of the greatest basketball players in NBA history. Barkley was consistently excellent, earning 11 All-Star Game appearances, one NBA MVP, and a spot in the Hall of Fame. Sir Charles had ample chances to win a title, making the playoffs 13 times. But the prime years of his career coincided with those of Michael Jordan. Jordan’s Bulls knocked Barkley out three times, twice when Chuck played with the 76ers, and once in the Finals when Barkley was a Phoenix Sun.

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Source: New York Rangers / NHL / Wikimedia Commons

4. Marcel Dionne
> Position, team(s): Center: Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings
> Career: 1971-1989
> Accolades: 4x All-Star, 1x Ross Trophy, 2x Pearson Trophy, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 9

Marcel Dionne was one of the most potent offensive threats in NHL history. His 731 goals rank fifth all time. Yet his greatness only magnified the struggles of his teammates, who were almost never up to his level. Though a relatively high share of NHL teams make the playoffs each year, Dionne only made the postseason in nine of his 18 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings, and New York Rangers. And even when Dionne’s teams made the playoffs, they typically lost in the first or second round.

Source: Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images

3. Karl Malone
> Position, team(s): Power forward: Utah Jazz
> Career: 1985-2004
> Accolades: 14x All-Star, 2x MVP, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 19

Though Karl Malone made the playoffs in each of his 19 NBA seasons, he could never win an NBA championship. The two-time MVP and John Stockton made a terrific pair as members of the Utah Jazz, running the pick and roll. The Mailman was a fantastic defender and prodigious scorer. After losing two finals with the Jazz in the 1990s, Malone, at age 40, joined the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal-led L.A. Lakers in 2003. The team made the 2004 Finals but lost to the Detroit Pistons, ending Malone’s last shot at a championship.

Source: Rick Stewart / Getty Images

2. Barry Sanders
> Position, team(s): Running back: Detroit Lions
> Career: 1989-1998
> Accolades: 10x Pro Bowl, 6x All-Pro, MVP, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 5

Barry Sanders was one of the most elusive and exciting running backs in NFL history. Sanders made the Pro Bowl in all 10 of his seasons and picked up six All-Pro designations and one MVP award. But he played on the Detroit Lions, hamstringing his shot at a Super Bowl. Despite his team’s management struggles, Sanders powered the Lions to the playoffs five times, but they won just one game. Though he could still clearly play at a high level, Sanders said he decided to retire in 1998 because he felt that Detroit was unable or unwilling to build a championship-level team.

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1. Ted Williams
> Position, team(s): Outfielder: Boston Red Sox
> Career: 1939-1960
> Accolades: 17x All-Star, 6x Batting title, 2x MVP, Hall of Fame
> Playoff appearances: 1

Ted Williams was one of the greatest hitters ever. He made 17 All-Star teams and won six batting titles and two MVPs in his Hall of Fame career. He still owns the MLB record with a .482 on base percentage. The Red Sox were generally a winning team in his day, but it was an era when only the top team from the American and National Leagues would make the postseason, facing off in the World Series. The rival New York Yankees made 14 World Series appearances during Williams’s career. He also missed three seasons while serving in the military during World War II, and large parts of two others serving in the Korean War. Williams played in just one World Series. In 1946, his Red Sox lost in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals.