Email from David Craig observes:
Usually this phrase is used to mean there's no room for improvement. In this case it's quite the opposite. 52 seconds in to this recap of yesterday's Cubs Nationals game.
Here's the phrase, in a bit of context:
Five nothing Cubs, bottom five: It doesn't get any better for Jordan Zimmerman, as Dioner Navarro comes through with two men aboard.
Jordan Zimmerman is the pitcher for the Nationals, who has already given up several home runs, and at this point — the bottom of the fifth inning — gives one up to Navarro, the Cubs' catcher.
It's true that the phrase "it doesn't get any better" usually translates to "it's really good, as good as possible in fact". This interpretation has been increasingly likely since about 1984, when the phrase "It doesn't get any better than this" was adopted as the tagline of a popular series of Old Milwaukee beer commercials. By the early 1990s, the phrase had become the core conceit of a series of self-parody versions of the ad:
These ads led to a lawsuit ("Suit Over Sex in Beer Ads Comes as Genre Changes", NYT 11/12/1991):
A LAWSUIT filed last week, linking alleged sexual harassment of women workers at the Stroh Brewery Company to the brewery's advertising campaign featuring young women in bikinis, has focused attention again on what some critics call the last bastion of sexism in advertising.
The suit was settled out of court in 1993, but the phrase continued to climb:
(The ngram viewer insists on coding "doesn't" as "does not"; and I've multiplied the frequencies by 10,000 to turn from uninterpretable percentages with a half-dozen leading zeros, to frequencies per million words.)
A majority of examples in the current Google News index have the positive affect of the beer commercials, and the usage is especially common in sports stories, so it's not surprising that David noticed the exceptional negative-valence context of the example in the Cubs recap.
But the beer-commercial version is less dominant overall than I might have expected, especially when the final "… than this" is omitted. COCA has 83 instances of the phrase "it doesn't get any better" (corresponding to a frequency of 0.18 per million words, or almost four times the Google Books estimate), and 12 of them are negative, e.g.
If we hadn't done this, it would have been worse. Well, that's something that doesn't really resonate with a lot of people, and I do think that if this is an L-shaped recovery, as Adam just described, where you kind of just bounce along on the bottom, it doesn't get any worse, but it doesn't get any better, and Wall Street continues to take big bonuses, and the unemployment rate is still bad…
When Jack and I get home he goes into his office. I wander about, until finally I settle on a plan. I take the fireside poker and walk up the stairs to her room where I smash the computer in. When I'm done Jack is standing there, watching. "That's a very expensive machine, " he says.
"Fuck you," I say. It doesn't get any better. At the end of the month, he moves out.
Kathy Anderson, who moved to the Old Peachtree Station neighborhood off Ga. 20 six years ago, said she can't afford to wait.
" Now I have a hard time getting out of my subdivision," she said. "You just sit there and wait and wait and wait. It's scary. It really is."
It doesn't get any better once she's on Ga. 20. Anderson said she's waited for the traffic signal to change five or six times before making it across the Ga. 316 intersection.
For Mrs. Ramsaroop, the memories and emotions are clearly still overwhelming. As she sits back in her recliner chair in the living room holding her baby and talks about her husband Vishnoo, tears stream down her cheeks. She says it doesn't get any better; every time she talks about him, the pain is still there.
LARRY ELLISON, CHAIRMAN &; CEO, ORACLE CORP.: We're out of the prediction business. We're not going to predict when it's going to get better. We're going to assume it doesn't get any better, and we'll tell you it's going to get better after it's already happened.
I guess I'm sort of in a continued state of amazement that it doesn't get any better; that it keeps getting worse and the American people keep falling for the worst stuff, you know?
"I said,' See if you can pace yourself so it doesn't consume you,' " Vermeil recalls.
"Thing is, it doesn't get any better," Vermeil says. "It gets worse. That's what happened to me. Eventually, there's no more gas left in the tank."
"When you lose a child, there's a period of grieving, and then you come to a place of peace, " she says."But when you have a missing child, you don't get that. There is no end. It doesn't get any better."
Update — As evidence that those beer ads didn't invent the "better than this" idiom, here's a bit from "The Last Word In Restaurants From Canaday", NYT 8/6/1976: