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The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. Paperback – May 1, 1971

4.3 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (May 1, 1971)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452260302
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452260306
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #632,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The basic story of Coover's book is quite simple. Henry Waugh creates an intricate single-player baseball game that's played with dice. He plays entire seasons with his eight-team league; he keeps detailed statistics for every player and every game; he creates backstories and personalities for his players; he develops an administrative body for his league and imagines political debates among the players; and he acts as an official historian of the league, writing volumes of stories about the game and its players. When something shocking and unexpected occurs within the game, Henry gradually loses the ability to distinguish between reality and imagined events within the game. In the end, he is more or less consumed by his game.
As the synopsis above no doubt suggests, this story begs to be read as an allegory. One might read it as an allegory of God's relation to His creation. Henry, like God, is a creator who appears to have complete control over his creation, and yet, like God, his creation comes to take on a life of its own. When terrible things occur, he desperately wants to step in and set things right, but he also wants the game to retain its integrity. So Henry is like God in that he remains outside his creation even though it seems he could sometimes intervene to set things right. (Indeed, some of the game's players are said to have some sense of a higher power controlling their destiny.) One might also read Henry's relation to his game as an allegory of man's attempt to make sense of his world through art, religion, science, philosophy, etc. All that's really going on is the random event of rolling the dice, as, in some sense, all that's really going on in the universe is certain random physical events.
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Format: Paperback
I don't recommend this book for the faint of heart. While you can summarize the basic story of "The Universal Baseball Association" in a few words, the actual reading experience is far more intense than a summary would suggest. This book celebrates the myth of baseball as American creation in just about the darkest way imaginable.

The novel's set-up is an appealing one. J. Henry Waugh (whose initials read YAHWEH) took eight of the original post-Civil War major league franchises, populated them entirely with players of his own invention, and evolved his league through dozens of seasons via a tabletop, dice-activated baseball game of his own design. The league begins to consume his life in its 56th season -- and his 56th year. It sounds fun to take on a project like this. Indeed, on the Internet you can even find recreations of the UBA charts as J. Henry Waugh may have designed them.

As the book goes on, however, progressively fewer paragraphs are devoted to the point of view of our protagonist. Rather, Henry's players -- unaware of his very existence -- begin to do all the talking for him. The slide begins innocently enough: Henry leaves work a few minutes early one Wednesday afternoon so he can reread the boxscore of a perfect game one of "his" rookies pitched the night before. While reading, he imagines the past greats of his league telling stories about the early years. In one of the book's funnier moments, one of those old-time players is suddenly cut off in mid-quote when Henry realizes that the man in question is, in fact, dead.

Thus we learn more about Henry's league: His players live full lives after retirement from the playing field, and can even marry, have children, and die.
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Format: Paperback
When I was in middle school, I was perhaps a little too much in love with a Nintendo football game called Tecmo Bowl. The game was great. I played out an entire season of NFL games using the video game teams, recording wins, losses, which teams made the playoffs, and keeping a running total of the player's stats for the season. I would even pretend to be the announcer, and sometimes recorded my commentary (painfully inane if I ever listened to it afterwards). Then I would go out in the back yard and reenact the highlights from each game. In many respects, I was similar to the protagonist of Robert Coover's The Universal Baseball Association, Inc.: J. Henry Waugh, Prop., who devises an intricate version of simulated baseball that he plays in his kitchen with dice. The difference is that I was twelve. Henry is fifty-seven.

To escape from reality into a world of imagination is regarded as endearing and encouraging in children - in adults, it seems pathetic and disturbing. As the novel progresses, we see how far Henry has taken his obsession: he concocts life stories for the players, composes songs supposedly popular in the alternate reality inhabited by the UBA, conducts pretend interviews, writes newspaper articles, lines his shelves with record books, and even conflates events of his own life with the lives of the players - and vice versa. What could drive a man to do all this? Certainly not a love for the game. In fact, Henry admits that real baseball bores him. Possible explanations seem to be desire for control, intense boredom, overwhelming feelings of isolation, or simply inability to mature and face the problems of adult life.
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