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?


"...presumably those assertions are similarly erroneous."

What a fantastic burn.

Rudiger in Jersey

"where do nice guys finish?"

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

Paul Dresman

In a variation, in an unpublished poem, I said: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

Ben D

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

Jonathan B

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


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.


The term “out of pocket” has been part of English usage long before 1978. “Out of Pocket” refers to losses or expenses incurred and perhaps paid. An example would be “I paid $100.00 for photocopy expense of the file and was never retained by the client; I’m out of pocket $100.00.” Another example, “I went to City Hall and bought a copy of the home design plans. The prospective customer never hired me; I’m out of pocket”

Now that you understand what an out of pocket economic loss is, consider the following. “Had the customer purchased my goods, I would have made a $100.00 profit from the sale.”

In the first example, an out of pocket loss is a cost of doing business. Recovery is not likely. In the second example, the seller had a mere expectation of the profit. It cost him nothing (except his time) to offer the goods. He may or may not get the profit from another customer.



no 6, that is known as Parkinson's Law


Who first said "Last guys don't finish nice"


"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.


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.


I've seen different verisons of the "Nice Gus " quote. One of which had some other words separating "nice guys" from "last " or "Last place" If the speaker had not been Durocher, it might have been ignored.


I was living in Chicago when the Cubs hired Leo as manager. He famously proclaimed the Cubs to not be an eighth place ball club. The NL expanded and he was right -- they were a ninth place ball club.


I have heard the phrase "out of pocket" or "going out of pocket" used to mean funding a project independently (as opposed to relying on funds from an investor or another source). For example: "I hope they come up with the cash because I really don't want to go out of pocket on this one."

Bob Deis

I'll add a couple of other pieces to the puzzle, based on my own recent Internet searches of newspaper archives.

In an article published on August 12, 1946 in the Uniontown (Pennsylvania) Morning Herald, sports editor Jimmy Gismondi wrote that Dodgers fans "back up their manager [Durocher] when he leaps from his dugout to scream at an ump. 'Nice guys don't win pennants,' the Dodger fans
say. And sometimes we think they're right. How's Mel Ott doing these days?"

I also found an Associated Press article dated August 13, 1946, by AP Sports Editor Frank Eck. In that, he said: "Brooklyn fans like their baseball rough. They remember when their heroes were second division duds six straight years in the thirties. Just now they have a rough and tumble group to cheer and they love Durocher for saying: 'Nice guys don't win pennants.'"

Those articles suggest that a common line used by Durocher and Dodgers fans at the time was "Nice guys don't win pennants."

I also found two news stories from 1948 commenting on a recent article Leo Durocher wrote. Durocher's article was published in the April 1948 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine (which apparently covered more than fashion back then). The title of his Cosmo article was "Nice Guys Finish Last."

So, was that title chosen by Durocher based on a quote he coined - or was it created by an editor at Cosmopolitan, who may be the real coiner of the line that Durocher later claimed as his?

Bob Deis


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