We are suckers for lists. VH-1 always manages to suck people in with those “100 greatest songs of the 80′s” nostalgia-fests. Not to mention we sports fans never met a list over which we didn’t love to drunkenly argue. There’s even a website dedicated to such listery. I’m no different; I can play moth to the candle flame of lists. Add that to some recent events in the world of famous, yet not really relevant awards, and you have what steered me to a list of 10 writers screwed out of Nobel Prize
Never mind I never heard of half these guys. FlameHorse (whoever you and your three English degrees are…or is it whomever?) did a tremendous job of painting the picture behind just enough of that acrid, yet oh-so-pretentious clove cigarette aroma for me to see this is really an English major’s version of a “Who got screwed out of what award” or “Who should be in what Hall of Fame” list. We sports fans consume lists like that like a poet takes to cheap wine.
So, in an effort to promote understanding between those of you who inhabited the liberal arts buildings and those of us who actually graduated and got jobs, I seized the opportunity for a comparison study. Since you bookworms understand this collection of dead guys, and we illiterate knuckle-draggers understand sports, perhaps by laying the two side-by-side might give us all a glimpse into that scary, dark world opposite your own.
#10) Jorge Luis Borges 1899-1986
Borges had a good twenty years to be considered for a Nobel, and was hot in the running for one for many years, but the Nobel Committee refused to award it to him because of his support for right-wing dictators like Pinochet. Sounds like someone he shouldn’t have supported, but the Committee routinely awarded the prize to writers who supported left-wing dictators like Joseph Stalin. Pinochet was worse than Stalin? Borges wrote the finest surreal literature to date, and won the first International Pulitzer Prize. Politics seems a bad subject on which to argue.
Equivalent Sports Injustice : Curt Schilling (if he doesn’t get into the Baseball Hall of Fame) – Granted, I realize I’m reaching into the future, but I just see this one coming. Please save the stats arguments, he is a viable candidate off the “bloody sock” and winning the first World Series for the Red Sox in 86 years. What will keep him out is his bombastery via his blog.
#9) Vladimir Nabokov 1899-1977
One of the greatest non-native writers of English. Nabokov’s most famous novel, and his finest, is Lolita. He wrote many more excellent works of fiction and criticism, translations of poetry. He was nominated in 1974, along with Graham Greene (not the actor), and lost to Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, joint winners. The former was Swedish, and both were members of the Nobel Committee at the time.
Equivalent Sports Injustice : Penn State Getting Screwed Out of The 1994 National Championship - In a season that saw the Nittany Lions steamroll Southern Cal, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, and a Rose Bowl flock-shoot of the Oregon Ducks, Nebraska waltzed through a conference schedule facing only one team with a winning record, and bakery-fresh cupcake non-conference foes like a pre-Big 12 Texas Tech, Wyoming, and Pacific.
For those of you too young to remember, once upon a time the Big Eleven Ten rivaled the SEC as the best conference in the land, while the Big 8 in any season only ever had two teams worth anything. But a wave of cronism set in, as Huskers were awarded the title with the feeling that coach Tom Osborne should get a National Championship before he retired.
#8 ) W. H. Auden 1907-1973
One of the greatest 20th Century poets in history. He won the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and profoundly influenced all poets, especially English-speaking poets, who have come after him. It is believed that the Committee turned him down because he made errors in a translation of a book by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dag Hammarskjold, and because he suggested that Hammarskjold was homosexual, like Auden.
Equivalent Sports Injustice : Auburn Refusing to Hire Turner Gill Because He Had a White Wife – Hypocrisy is a wonderful thing. The same Nobel committee that is historically has preached tolerance while being anti-semitic thumbs it nose at a country that in the same year elected its first black president and showed that inter-racial relationships are still not accepted in all circles.
#7) Robert Frost 1874-1963
The greatest 20th Century American Poet, by far. The Bard of the Northeast. He won 4 (FOUR!) Pulitzer Prizes for his poetry, was awarded over 40 honorary doctorates from Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton, and Harvard, among others. The only other winner of four Pulitzers for literature is Eugene O’Neill, who did win a Nobel. Frost’s fourth Pulitzer was awarded 20 years before he died. The Nobel Committee managed to ignore him for those 20 years.
Equivalent Sports Injustice : Bert Blyleven Not Being In the Baseball Hall of Fame - To say that Bert Blyleven wasn’t one the great pitchers in the history of baseball is just pure delusion. It doesn’t help that a lot of people who have votes can see past the Hudson River. Small-market bias explains why Bert Blyleven can’t get into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Sure he didn’t pitch exclusively in Minnesota, but he did spend the entirety of his career in the relative obscurity of what would become known as the “small market team,” meaning Minnesota, Texas, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Minnesota again, and the California Angels. Although it would have given me intestine-shredding nausea to see it, my assertion is that had Blyleven pitched for the Yankees, he would have been a superstar. Just for fun, consider the following comparison of Blyleven’s career numbers to Yankee legend and Hall-of-Famer Whitey Ford.
- 287 wins – 25th All-Time (51 more wins than Ford at 236)
- 3.31 career Earned Run Average (2.75 for Ford, who never pitched in the Designated Hitter era, or after the pitcher’s mound was lowered before the 1969 season)
- 4,970 innings pitched – 13th on the All-Time list (3,170 for Ford)
- 3,701 strikeouts – 5th on the All-Time list (1,956 for Ford)
- 685 career starts – 9th on the All-Time list (438 for Ford)
- 242 complete games (156 for Ford)
- 60 shutouts – 9th on the All-Time list (45 for Ford)
- Two World Series Championships: 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates and 1987 Minnesota Twins (4 for Ford, who pitched the whole of his career with the Yankees)
- Won 20 games in 1973 (Ford only won 20 games twice, in 1961 and 1963)
- One of only three pitchers to ever win a Major League game before his 20th birthday and also win a Major League game after his 40th birthday.
#6) Emile Zola 1840-1902
The greatest exemplar of the French school of literary naturalism. He wrote over 30 novels, and any one of them could have gotten a Pulitzer today, without competition. His 2 chances to win were spoiled for the same reason as the next entry.
Equivalent Sports Injustice : Alex Karras and Hugh Green not winning the 1957 and 1980 Heisman Trophies respectively - Apparently, college football isn’t the only place where eligibility rules ruin the day. Although technically, the Heisman Trophy is given to the “best player in the nation,” we all know that its really the “Sexiest Offensive Stats” award.
#5) Henrik Ibsen 1826-1906
Norway’s greatest author, and one of the finest modern dramatic writers in history. He had 6 chances to win, since the award was begun in 1901, but he lost due to arguments over Alfred Nobel’s eligibility requirements, as laid out in his will. He intended the winners to exhibit “lofty and sound idealism.” But from 1901 to 1912, the Committee believed that he meant “ideal direction.” Apparently Ibsen, the father of modern drama, was not leading the literary world in the ideal direction.
Equivalent Sports Injustice : Peyton Manning not winning the 1997 Heisman – The exact inverse of #6. Heisman voters finally let their guilt catch up to them for shafting great defensive players like Alex Karras and Hugh Green by shafting a deserving quarterback in favor of a defensive back.
#4 Marcel Proust 1871-1922
The author of the most monumental work of 20th-Century fiction, A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, In Search of Lost Time. It’s a 7-volume novel which exhibits one of the first, if not the first, example of stream of consciousness writing. And yet, the Committee award the 1920 prize to Knut Hamsun (Norwegian, which is closer to Swedish than French), for his monumental work, Growth of the Soil. Which one do more people read today? Yep, In Search of Lost Time.
Equivalent Sports Injustice : Mick Tinglehoff Not Being in the Football Hall of Fame – The Minnesota Vikings of the 1970′s were arguably the greatest team that just couldn’t get over that Super Bowl hump. Yet the team accomplishment of winning championships seems to be a criteria a mongst voters for individual enshrinement. When Pittsburgh center Mike Webster was inducted, he was called the greatest ever at the position as the Steelers won four Lombardi Trophies.
A big reason Fran Tarkenton is in the Hall is because he was behind Tingelhoff.
However, in Tingelhoff’s 17 seasons snapping for the Vikings, he played in and started 240 consecutive games, was named All-Pro 7 consecutive years and played in 6 straight Pro Bowls.
#3) James Joyce 1882-1941
The greatest Irish writer besides W. B. Yeats, who did win the prize. Joyce is also the greatest writer of stream of consciousness fiction in history. He practically invented the modern idea of speculative fiction, with his final work, Finnegans Wake, which is almost unreadable. He considered it his finest work, but is more famous for Ulysses, the Dubliners, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Equivalent Sports Injustice
: That Mark Fidrych Didn’t Have a Better Career -
Nicknamed “The Bird” for his lanky six-foot-plus frame, Fidrych pitched his way to the American League Rookie of the Year award in 1976. Known for his quirky behavior
, he won 19 games in his rookie season and was a two-time All-Star before injuries prematurely ended his career.
#2) Leo Tolstoy 1828-1910
The greatest exemplar of literary realism in history, and possibly the greatest novelist in history. His two most titanic works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, would have been more than sufficient to secure Knut Hamsun an award. If only Tolstoy had been born a little closer to Sweden, the Committee might have overlooked their arguable translation of Nobel’s will. Apparently, the Committee did not consider Tolstoy to be leading the modern literary world in “the ideal direction.”
Equivalent Sports Injustice : The Houston Oilers’ Firing of Bum Phillips - The Oilers languished at the mediocre-or-worse level for most of theri existence prior to Phillps’ taking over the team in 1974. After the prototypical Texan hit the Houston sideline, the Oilers entered the “Luv Ya Blue” era, becoming a constant playoff team and main rival to the dynasty of the time, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite the early success, Phillps was fired just six years later for failing to do something no one of the time could do; beat Pittsburgh.
#1) Mark Twain 1835-1910
The inventor of the American Novel, with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and one of the all-time greatest novelists, humorists, essayists, critics, and all-around authors. Like Tolstoy, he had 10 chances to win, and ten times was passed over, in favor of the following eleven authors:
Sully Prudhomme, Theodor Mommsen, Bjornstjern Bjornson, Frederic Mistral and Jose Echeragay (both in 1904), Henryk Sienkiewicz, Giosue Carducci, Rudyard Kipling, Rudolf Christoph Eucken, Selma Lagerlof, Paul Heyse.
I’m willing to bet you’ve only heard of one of those. I have three English degrees, and I’ve only heard of one of them. I have, however, heard of Mark Twain.
Equivalent Sports Injustice : The 1972 US Men’s Olympics Basketball Team Robbed of the Gold Medal – With three seconds left in the gold medal game, US forward Doug Collins hit two free throws to give the USA the lead 50-49 over the Soviet Union. But for some reason, the buzzer sounded before Collins’ second free throw. On the Soviets’ next possesion, they inbounded the ball and failed to score. But after hearing the earlier horn and seeing a disturbance near the scorers table, one official had whistled a stop in play with one second remaining . As the Soviets were arguing they had requested a timeout before the free throws, the referees ordered the clock reset to three seconds and the game’s final seconds replayed. However, the clock was in the process of being reset when the referees put the ball in play, with the Soviets again failing to score. The horn sounded and the US again began celebrating.
But because the clock was still being reset when the ball was put back into play, the Secretary General of FIBA, R. William Jones, ordered the clock to be reset again, giving the Soviets a third shot at the last three seconds. Another full-court pass came from the Soviets, Aleksander Belov caught the long pass and drove to the basket for the winning points as the buzzer sounded.