“In 1946, Leo Durocher was the coach of the Dodgers. His club was leading the National League, while the team’s traditional archrival, the New York Giants, was languishing in the bottom of the standings.
During a game between the Dodgers and the Giants, Durocher was mocking the Giants in front of a group of sportswriters. One of the sportswriters teased Durocher, “Why don’t you be a nice guy for a change?” Durocher pointed at the Giants’ dugout and said, “Nice guys! Look over there. Do you know a nicer guy than (Giants’ manager) Mel Ott? Or any of the other Giants? Why they’re the nicest guys in the world! And where are they? In seventh place!”
As recounted by Ralph Keyes in his book on misquotations, Nice Guys Finish Seventh, the metamorphosis of Durocher’s quote began a year later. The Baseball Digest quoted Durocher as saying, “Nice guys finish in last place in the second division.” Before long, as his quip was passed from one person to another, it evolved, becoming simpler and more universal, until it emerged as a cynical comment on life: “Nice guys finish last.” No more reference to the Giants, no more reference to seventh place–in fact, no more reference to baseball at all. Nice guys finish last.
This quote, polished by the marketplace of ideas, irked Durocher. For years, he denied saying the phrase (and, of course, he was right), but eventually he gave up. Nice Guys Finish Last was the title of his autobiography.”
From Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath