Wissot: Maybe ‘nice guys finish last,’ but being kind is more important than being nice (column)

Jay Wissot
Valley Voices

Leo Durocher, the fiery baseball manager of both the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, is said to have coined the phrase “nice guys finish last.”

Durocher explained his philosophy by using the following illustration: My grandmother is on second base, and I’m the opposing third-baseman. A ball is hit into the outfield, and my grandmother rounds third attempting to score. I stick my foot out as she does and trip her. After the play ends I go over, pick her up and apologize. But she doesn’t score. (“Nice Guys Finish Last,” Leo Durocher, Ed Linn, 1975). Poor grandma.

Durocher’s tirade against the idea of trying to be nice raises some interesting questions.

Aren’t we taught from an early age that being nice is, well, nice? Don’t women want to eventually settle down with nice men? The prevailing assumption being that “bad” boys don’t make good husbands, partners or mates. From play nice to act nice to be nice, nice is generally taught to us as a positive trait. So is Durocher wrong in his claim that nice guys are basically losers?

I think it is possible to agree with both sides of the issue. Yes, we prefer people to be nice, as opposed to being, nasty, mean, petty, vindictive. But, no, just being nice is not enough when it comes to succeeding in a highly competitive world, one where many of the people you are up against possess an array of other desired qualities.

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Let’s be honest here, when the first thing you think of in describing a person is that he or she is nice, it probably means that there aren’t more flattering things to say about them.

Having good manners is always expected on a job interview, but if that is all you have to offer your prospective employer, then the odds of being hired are not very good.

Being kind doesn’t generate the same kind of controversy. Aside from throwaway lines such as “you’re being too kind” or “you’re killing me with kindness,” nobody minds being treated to an excessive amount of kindness. In a world that is often cruel and harsh, kindness is a blessing that we never tire of receiving.

Nicole Wallace on MSNBC recalled in paying tribute to the passing of Barbara Bush that she once heard the First Lady say in a conversation, “The times in my life I most regret are the times I could have been kinder.”

Henry James put it this way: “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; the third is to be kind,” (“Henry James Killer Kindness Quote,” Lev Raphael, The Huffington Post, Jan. 24, 2017).

The highest expression of kindness is the kindness we offer to strangers. The parable of the Good Samaritan is the most famous example of this. Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ classic play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” says that she “has always been dependent on the kindness of strangers.” Sadly, as the play clearly shows, nothing could be farther from the truth because strangers had treated her cruelly.

While we expect to be treated with kindness by our family and friends, we are grateful when we are given the gift of kindness from strangers.

We see that gift most dramatically given when we are confronted with tragic circumstances requiring an immediate response on the part of strangers rushing to aid other strangers. Last year, it was the flotilla of rescue boats in flood-ravaged Houston and the caravan of makeshift car ambulances transporting victims of the mass violence on the Las Vegas strip to hospitals.

Both tragedies had one thing in common: People who lived in the same communities but had never met one another before became intimates because of the kindness shown by stranger to stranger.

Five years ago at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, the country witnessed a similar moment: bystanders carrying critically wounded victims of the bombings to medical facilities and tying tourniquets to those for whom loss of blood would ultimately determine loss of limbs or, worse, loss of life.

A book was just published recently chronicling that terrible day. The title: “If Not For the Perfect Stranger: Heartwarming and Healing Stories of Kindness from the 2013 Boston Marathon.”

I’m not certain Leo Durocher’s prediction that “nice guys finish last” is true. But I am confident that in the world in which you and I live, kind people always finish first.

Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at

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