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June 24, 2006 / Sports / Brooklyn Cyclones / The Play’s the Thing

Who says nice guys finish last?

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Amaxim credited to Leo Durocher, former manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, is “Nice guys finish last.”

Durocher was referring to the rival New York Giants, and although he actually meant, “They’re nice guys, but they’ll finish last,” the famous remark is still interpreted to mean that being personable causes failure.

If this is so, the Cyclones are in big trouble: new Brooklyn skipper, George Greer, is indeed a nice guy.

Fortunately for fans of the Brooks, he’s also talented, and his coaching ability draws raves.

The 59-year-old Greer, from Westerly, Rhode Island, played college baseball at the University of Connecticut, where he was a two-time All-American outfielder. He captained the United States team in the 1967 Pan American Games and singled in the winning run against Cuba to give the U.S. the gold medal.

After college, he played professionally for four years in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization, reaching Triple-A Tulsa, where he hit .316.

After his playing career, he initiated the college baseball program at University of Connecticut-Avery Point, and won nine titles in nine years. That’s not merely good, that’s crazy good.

He was later the head coach at Davidson, and then spent 17 years as the head coach at Wake Forest.

While coaching the Demon Deacons, Greer won three Atlantic Coast Conference championships and produced 29 All-Americans.

In the summers, Greer coached the Cotuit Keetleers in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League, and some of the now former major leaguers who played for him included Ron Darling, John Franco, Greg Vaughn, and Will Clark. Greer continued his winning ways, piloting Cotuit to three league titles.

He’s won championships. Lots of them.

So how could he be a nice guy?

“Coach Greer was a really good hitter himself,” said David Bush, who started as a catcher at Wake Forest. “He realized that I wouldn’t hit enough to make it on the professional level. So he converted me to pitching.

“I really had hardly pitched before, even as a kid, so he didn’t rush me. Just let me gradually learn how to pitch.”

It worked, as Bush is now pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers.

“He [Greer] emphasizes doing things the right way, not having a fear of doing things the wrong way,” said Bush. “He lets players play, and he’s not always yelling at you. He got me to the major leagues.”

Another former Deacon Demon explained Greer’s influence. “He’s an ideal players’ coach,” said Mike Holmes, a scout for the Oakland A’s. “Basically, he had just three rules: Be on time, play hard, and don’t do anything to embarrass yourself, your family or your teammates.

“He doesn’t like to tinker with players at first, so he waits to make a change after he’s evaluated you. He doesn’t miss much, and he’s watching you even when you think he isn’t.”

Holmes said Greer’s greatest influence came off the playing field.

“I was a young player in the minor leagues at Visalia, in California,” said Holmes. “I found out that my father had cancer. I couldn’t leave the team to go home. Well, Coach Greer called me every few days, week after week, helping me handle the situation. I’ve never forgotten that.”

The Cape Cod League also felt Greer’s influence.

John Schiffner has known Greer since 1978 when Greer was coaching the Hyannis Mets and Schiffner was with the Chatham A’s.

“George Greer is one of the nicest people you could ever meet,” said Schiffner. “Now, on the baseball field, he’s all business. And don’t get him mad. But off the field, here’s how nice he is: George loves animals, and when he comes to visit, he even brings dog biscuits for my dog and catnip for my cat.”

Can he even be nice after a record-setting, 18-0 loss in the season opener? Judging from what people tell me, Greer isn’t going to overreact to that one game if his players keep hustling. He’s going to give his players time, as he’s done his whole career.

“Brooklyn struck gold when they got George Greer,” said Paul Galop, president of the Cape Cod League. “The fans are going to fall in love with him.”

Nice guys finish last?

No way.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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