In an otherwise sensible piece on the threatened baseball strike and the childish belief on many fans’ part that “players ought to play simply for the love of the game,” Ira Berkow says the following:
The fact is, they are professionals, and from the time professional baseball began, in 1869, with the Red Stockings of Cincinnati, the most accomplished baseball players played for money. That is literally the name of the game.
Now, like most lovers of language, I hate the use of “literally” to mean its opposite (‘metaphorically’), but I’ve grown resigned to hearing it in conversation and reading it in e-mails and the like. But to read it in the New York Times, allegedly a great newspaper, from the pen of Berkow, who’s been paid for his writing for many years now, is depressing in the extreme. No, Ira, the name of the game is literally baseball. You could look it up. (Furthermore, the first professional player was probably the great pitcher Jim Creighton, who died at 21 in 1862, but that’s not really Languagehat material.)
Having gotten that off my chest, I will quote a delightful exchange that, whether real or invented (sorry, Ira, you get no benefit of the doubt today), perfectly sums up a basic feature of human nature:
I got into a conversation the other day with a guy who sold stationery for a living. He resented the players. Why?
“They make too much money,” he said.
“What’s too much?” I asked.
“They make more in one time at bat than I do in a week.”
“Would you trade places with them?”
“And if someone told you you were making too much money, what would you tell them?”
“I’d tell ‘em it was none of their damn business.”