Quotes Uncovered: Where Do Nice Guys Finish?

Each week, I’ve been inviting readers to submit quotations whose origins they want me to try to trace, using my book, The Yale Book of Quotations, and my more recent research. Here is the latest round.

Brian asked:

The new Willie Mays biography claims the phrase “Nice guys finish last” may have originated from the Giants-Dodgers rivalry, where Leo Durocher said something about Mel Ott being too nice a guy and that’s why they [the Giants] finished last. Any truth to this? Where did that phrase originate?

The Yale Book of Quotations has the following under Leo Durocher:

[Remark about New York Giants baseball team, July 6, 1946:] The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.
Quoted in New York Journal-American, July 7, 1946. Ralph Keyes reports in Nice Guys Finish Seventh that, when this newspaper column “was reprinted in Baseball Digest that fall, Durocher’s reference to nice guys finishing in ‘seventh place’ had been changed to ‘last place.’ … Before long Leo’s credo was bumper-stickered into ‘Nice guys finish last.’” The shift may have taken place even earlier, given an article in Sporting News, July 17, 1946, headlined, “‘Nice Guys’ Wind Up in Last Place, Scoffs Lippy.”

James L Holt Jr asked:

I claim to have started the saying “out of pocket” in 1978. Frank S Cantrell claims to have started ‘telephone tag’, ‘MickyD’s’ (for McDonalds) and “brewsky” for beer.

Do you mean “out of pocket” in the sense “out of reach,” documented by the Oxford English Dictionary as far back as 1908, or “out of pocket” in the sense “out of funds,” documented by the Oxford English Dictionary as far back as 1679? I don’t know the dates that Frank S. Cantrell claims to have used the other terms, but presumably those assertions are similarly erroneous.

Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?

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  1. Anne says:

    “…presumably those assertions are similarly erroneous.”

    What a fantastic burn.

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  2. Rudiger in Jersey says:

    “where do nice guys finish?”

    Nobody knows. The last nice guy was Jimmy Hoffa. We still don’t know where he is.

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  3. Paul Dresman says:

    In a variation, in an unpublished poem, I said:
    “Nice guys finish last (and leave their lovers happy).”

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  4. Ben D says:

    What is the meaning/origin of the phrase, “Blame it on Mariah?”

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  5. Jonathan B says:

    Could you find the origin of the phrase “In a jiffy” Co-workers and I speculate it came from Jiffy Popcorn.

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  6. Mike says:

    Could you see if there is a source for ‘Work expands to fill the time alloted to it.” In other words, deadlines are there for a reason. I think I heard it was attributed to a Navy officer, but I haven’t found the origin.

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  7. Pete says:

    no 6, that is known as Parkinson’s Law

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson%27s_law

    Who first said “Last guys don’t finish nice”

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  8. Shaun says:

    “Could you see if there is a source for ‘Work expands to fill the time alloted to it.” In other words, deadlines are there for a reason. I think I heard it was attributed to a Navy officer, but I haven’t found the origin.”

    This isa version of Parkinson’s Law, coined by a British civil servant in the nineteen fifties.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson%27s_Law

    I think the general understanding of the phrase in Britain is that time means man hours rather than just hours, i.e. it’s primarily used to refer to effort allocated rather than deadlines.

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