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I have some questions regarding this fragment of Philip Roth's American Pastoral:

"The Swede started as end in football, center in basketball, and first baseman in baseball. Only the basketball team was ever any good - twice winning the city championship while he was its leading scorer - but as long as the Swede excelled, the fate of our team didn't matter much to student body"

1) The Swede started as end in football, center in basketball, and first baseman in baseball.

1) why there are no articles before end, center and first? I know, there's a rule that says articles can be omitted when nouns referring to two contrasting people or things are joined by 'and'. Is it also a case here?

2) Only the basketball team was ever any good - twice winning the city championship while he was its leading scorer (...)

2) Does this sentence mean that the basketball team was good or not?

I've noticed that be any use/any good is mostly used in a negative context, e.g. A boat like this wouldn’t be any good in a storm. or It isn’t any use complaining – they never listen.

  • What nouns are connected with "and"??? – Hot Licks Nov 1 '17 at 22:29
  • Any and all its compounds and idiomatic phrases are Negative Polarity Items and can't normally appear except around negation of one sort or another. Only is a negative trigger in this text, and that is what licenses be any good, entailing that the football and baseball teams weren't any good. As for the articles, football positions don't need them. Articles are very very irregular and idiomatic. – John Lawler Nov 1 '17 at 22:51
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1) The Swede started as end in football, center in basketball, and first baseman in baseball.

"end", "center" and "first baseman" are positions in the respective sports. "Started" in American sports terminology means he was the best player in those positions. No article is required.

2) Only the basketball team was ever any good

This means that the basketball team was good at least some of the time, but the other teams were never good.

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