The label “nice guy” carries an undeserved stigma in sports. In Building Good Teammates, I wrote: Whoever said nice guys finish last was too impatient. In the end, nice guys are the only ones who finish.

A man named Leo “The Lip” Durocher is the whoever credited with coining the expression “Nice guys finish last.” Durocher was an outspoken baseball player and coach. He played with Babe Ruth on the New York Yankees team that won the 1928 World Series.

But a strained relationship with the team’s ownership led to the fiery infielder being traded to the Cincinnati Reds the following season. He bounced around several other teams before eventually becoming the player/coach of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Book cover for "Nice Guys Finish Last" by Leo DurocherIn 42, the film about Jackie Robinson breaking major league baseball’s color barrier, actor Christopher Meloni, of Law & Order SVU fame, portrayed Durocher.

“Nice guys finish last” was a condensed version of what Durocher actually said. When asked about the cordial nature of the New York Giants, the Dodger’s crosstown rivals, he replied, “The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.” At the time, seventh place was next to last place in the league. Journalists shortened the headline to “Nice Guys’ Wind Up in Last Place, Scoffs Lippy.”

Durocher shortened the quote ever further when he titled his 1975 autobiography Nice Guys Finish Last. The idea has evolved to imply a correlation between being nice and finishing last—i.e. failure. But that is simply not true. You can be a decent person and succeed.

Nice guys are friendly, gracious, unselfish, kind, thoughtful, and considerate. Good teammates embody those same qualities. Good teammates are nice guys. No team sustains success without having good teammates. In other words, no team sustains success without having nice guys.

The caring, unselfish nature of a good teammate is the reason teams succeed. They have a willingness to sacrifice for the betterment of their team. Sure, you can get ahead, at least temporarily, without being nice.

Cheating, behaving unethically, or acting dishonestly may gain you an advantage. Speaking harshly and treating others poorly may produce momentary results. “Un-nice” behavior may help you win a game, or even a championship. But it won’t help you win at life.

When those on their deathbeds reflect on their lives, they don’t think about the games they won, or the championships they won, or any of the material possessions they acquired.

They measure their life by the meaningful relationships they formed, how well they treated others, and the positive differences they made in the world.  The absence of those benchmarks makes it hard to consider a life to have successfully finished. In the end, nice guys are the only ones who finish.

Leo “The Lip” Durocher was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994. He achieved considerable success as a player, and even more so as a coach. Ironically, Durocher was replaced as the Dodger’s starting shortstop by a player named Pee Wee Reese, who famously stood in solidarity with Jackie Robinson and is considered to be one of the greatest teammates of all time.

Perhaps even more ironic is that in spite of all of Durocher’s success on the baseball diamond, he is best remembered for the controversial support he gave Jackie Robinson.

When Dodger’s players began circulating a petition demanding Robinson be removed from the team, Durocher called a team meeting and told the players in no certain terms, “I don’t care if he (Jackie Robinson) is yellow or black or has stripes like a [censored] zebra. I’m his manager and I say he plays.”

Only a nice guy would provide that level of support. Indeed, in the end, Leo “The Lip” Durocher is remembered for being nice.

As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.

Lance Loya is a leading authority on the good teammate mindset. He is a college basketball coach turned author, blogger, and professional speaker, who inspires TEAMBUSTERS to become TEAMMATES. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and through his weekly Teammate Tuesday blog.

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