Saturday, December 13, 2014

Did Madison Bumgarner Deserve SI's 2014 Sportsman of the Year Award?

 By Andy Dougherty (@AndyDougherty10)

Since 1954, Sports Illustrated has presented the “Sportsman of the Year” award to “the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.”

Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated chose Madison Bumgarner as 2014’s winner. Bumgarner won the honor because of his historic playoff run, in which he led the San Francisco Giants to a championship and won the World Series MVP award.

However, Bumgarner was not among the 26 players who received votes for the National League MVP award. He did not finish in the Top-10 in the National League in ERA or Wins Above Replacement (WAR). His year as a whole was far from perfect, leaving the door open for another athlete to take this award. Here are the other eight nominees Sports Illustrated named for its fan poll.

The Nominees That Didn’t Have a Chance

Russell Wilson

With a Super Bowl victory in February, Russell Wilson established himself as one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. This year, he holds the lead in quarterback rushing yards by more than 300. But he did not win the Super Bowl MVP award, and he is not in realistic contention for the NFL MVP award. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have been better quarterbacks, though their teams came up short in the playoffs.

Clayton Kershaw

Kershaw was clearly the best pitcher in baseball during the regular season while Bumgarner was barely in the discussion. Kershaw went 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA while Bumgarner went 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA. But when the playoffs started, Kershaw got blown out and Bumgarner became lights-out.

Michael Sam

Michael Sam won the 2014 Arthur Ashe Courage Award after becoming the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team. His actions and words inspired countless people, but unfortunately, he was unable to make an NFL roster for the regular season. He still awaits his first chance to play in a professional game.

The L.A. Kings

After finishing third in their division and trailing three games to none in the first round, the Kings pulled off the comeback and gutted out three consecutive Game 7 victories to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, which they won in five games. It was a heroic effort, but not quite a legendary one. The 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, 1999 U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, and the 2004 Boston Red Sox are the only teams to have won this award in the past. The Kings had a phenomenal run, but they haven’t reached the same iconic status as the other teams that won this award.

Gregg Popovich

Future Hall of Fame coach Gregg Popovich coached the San Antonio Spurs’ aging stars to play extraordinary team basketball en route to an unexpected fifth NBA title. They exacted revenge over the Miami Heat, who had beaten them in the previous finals. But Popovich isn’t even eligible for this award according to the criteria Sports Illustrated laid out.

Bumgarner’s Biggest Challengers

Tim Howard

Howard set an all-time World Cup record by recording 16 saves in a game against Belgium in the Round of 16. The United States still lost the game 2-1, but his efforts made many Americans care about soccer for a little while, at least. Howard’s performance also prompted a fan to change the U.S. Secretary of Defense Wikipedia page so that Tim Howard was briefly listed as the incumbent. But Howard didn’t lead the U.S. to a championship, and he has not maintained the same astronomically high level of play for Everton in the English Premier League this season.

Serena Williams

Serena led women’s tennis by winning seven tournaments, and she finished 2014 with a comfortable hold on the WTA No. 1 ranking. In one of the most dominant performances of all time, she won the U.S. Open without losing more than three games in any of the 14 sets she played. But she did not even reach the quarterfinals of the other three majors. And although she may be the most talented female athlete in the world, she will struggle to ever win an award involving sportsmanship after the infamous tirade that disqualified her from the 2009 U.S. Open semifinals.

Rory McIlroy

McIlroy makes the best case as a challenger for this year’s award. He won two major titles, giving him four for his young career. He became only the third player since 1900 to win four majors by age 25, and you might have heard of the other two. They are Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, the two all-time leaders in major titles. McIlroy finished the year No. 1 by a wide margin.

Others Who Deserved a Nomination

Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby captained Team Canada to a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. He also won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s best player in 2013-14 and is an early leader for the award again this season.

Lionel Messi

While Tim Howard captured American hearts, Lionel Messi won the Golden Boot as the World Cup’s best player. Last month, he also broke a 69-year-old La Liga record for career goals scored with 253. Days later, he broke the all-time UEFA Champions League scoring record. Dominating the world’s most popular sport should have been enough for a nomination, though Messi failed to deliver for Argentina in the World Cup final.

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant won the NBA MVP and an ESPY for “best male athlete” this year. His touching acceptance speech for the NBA MVP award earned him an ESPY nomination for “best moment” of the year and also turned into a popular meme. But, like LeBron James and the Heat, he could not conquer the Spurs in the playoffs this year.

Tennis Stars

Novak Djokovic won Wimbledon, and finished 2014 as the No. 1 tennis player in the world for the third time in the last four years. But the more surprising snub was the player who finished right behind him in the rankings.

Roger Federer won the ATP’s sportsmanship award for the tenth time in the last eleven years, and he finished ranked in the top 2 for the tenth time as well. Over the course of a career, no athlete has epitomized the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement more than Federer.

Other Inspirational Sportsmen

Some of the year’s best sportsmen became famous for much more than their athletic abilities. Former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates started the Ice-Bucket Challenge and used famous athletes as a major catalyst for its astonishing success.

Mo’ne Davis became the first girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series.

Cincinnati Bengal Devon Still’s jersey sales raised over $1 million for pediatric cancer research due to his daughter Leah’s battle with neuroblastoma.

Lauren Hill played her first college basketball game after being diagnosed with a terminal case of cancer.

NBA player Jason Collins was featured on international covers of the 2014 Time 100 after being the first openly gay athlete to play in a professional game for a major American sports team.

Why Bumgarner Still Deserves the Award

2014 showcased a number of sentimental favorites and inspirational trailblazers. Many records were broken and new champions emerged. This year’s best sportsmen excelled in many different ways, though they weren’t as well-rounded as some past winners. For instance, in 2012, LeBron James ran away with this award by pulling off the trifecta, winning a league MVP award, a finals MVP award, and a team championship.

Madison Bumgarner did not dominate as consistently throughout the whole year, but neither did anyone else. Bumgarner performed at a higher level than any of them when it mattered the most. He posted a 0.43 ERA in 21 World Series innings in one of the most dominant pitching performances in baseball history.

Other athletes excelled compared to their peers, and some put themselves in impressive historical company because of their career achievements, but no one produced an all-time performance like Bumgarner on the biggest stage, except perhaps for Serena. That’s when sportsmanship came into play and pushed Bumgarner over the top.

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