Ken Jones: Why nice guys finish last ... but only on muddy days

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In the hard and meaningful world of sport as we know it today, the line, "Nice guys finish last" is supposed to represent a creed that all aspirants ignore at their peril.

In the hard and meaningful world of sport as we know it today, the line, "Nice guys finish last" is supposed to represent a creed that all aspirants ignore at their peril.

It is attributed to a famed baseball manager, Lou Durocher, who was on record as saying that unless you would kick your grandmother's top plate out to score a run you didn't belong in the game. He was right on that count. You belonged in jail.

But the original use of the quote dates back to a debate in the jockey's room at a racetrack one afternoon when the boys were trying to set up the card that day to please everybody. Since the going was on the damp side of soft, several said they did not want to finish last because they got sick and tired of wiping mud from their goggles. Finally, the ringleader became exasperated and asked, "Isn't there anybody here nice enough to finish last?" And one fellow stood up with a sigh and said, "Well if no one else will, I will." Only they left out part of the quote. The rest of it goes, "on muddy days."

The trouble with sports history is that it gets distorted in the telling. Officially, the Soviet linesman Tofik Bakhramov merely nodded in affirmation when asked by the referee, Gottfried Dienst, whether Geoff Hurst's shot had rebounded down over West Germany's goal-line in the 1966 World Cup final. In fact Bakhramov was heard to mutter, "Stalingrad."

It wasn't the Cornish-born Bob Fitzimmons, the only British fighter other than Lennox Lewis to hold the undisputed heavyweight championship, who first said, "The bigger they come, the harder they fall," before an unsuccessful defence of the title against the giant James J Jeffries in 1899. It was David shortly before he mugged Goliath.

"I zigged when I should have zagged," was what Jack Dempsey was supposed to have said to his film star wife, Estelle Taylor, when he came home all beat up from the first fight against Gene Tunney. Actually though, it is a direct quote from George Best the night he was found in the arms of a former Miss World when he should have been turning out for Manchester United.

Well, you can see how it goes, all down the line. You may even think, "I'll moider the bum" was first used by Two Ton Tony Galento before going in with Joe Louis for the heavyweight championship, but in fact it was what Sitting Bull said about General George Custer at Little Big Horn.

"He can run but he can't hide" is what Louis had to say about Billy Conn on the eve of their second fight but the truth is, the first time the quote was used was by a representative of the Metropolitan Police when setting off in pursuit of the murderer Dr Crippen.

"Say it isn't so, Joe." Now this was supposed to have been uttered by a heartbroken urchin as Shoeless Joe Jackson emerged from the courtroom after being accused of conspiring to throw a World Series. Actually, it was said by the doorman at Joe Di Maggio's apartment house the night the newspapers announced the retired baseball hero and Marilyn Monroe were splitting up.

When the founder of the modern Olympic movement, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, said, "The most important thing is not winning but taking part," he was only repeating what Napoleon said after being worked over by Wellington at Waterloo.

"Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don't like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious." You all know this, an avowal of Bill Shankly's passion for the game and Liverpool football club. Truth is that it goes back to Shankly's playing days when things were not going well for the team and he was behind with the rent. The line, "Slow down and smell the roses" is commonly pinned on the golfer Sam Snead. In fact it was the instruction given to the jockey of a heavily backed favourite.

Story goes that as Hurst broke away on a hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final and people on England's bench leaped up in anticipation, Alf Ramsey ordered the trainer Harold Shepherdson to sit down. What he said, in fact, was "I'll lay 7-2 Geoffrey misses."

Of course, you'll never find any of this in the history books. And that's not all bad.

Comments