The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. Essay - Critical Essays

Robert Coover


The Universal Baseball Association functions on several different, but interlaced, levels. In one sense, it is a story of a fantasy world, in which an aging and lonely man creates a world in which he is nearly total master of all that happens. In another sense, it is a symbolic representation of the actual world, in which events and actions have causes and meanings that are largely beyond human understanding or appreciation. Most important, perhaps, it is a meditation on what it means to be human, especially in relationships with others and within oneself.

The essence of the game Waugh invents is not what happens on the score sheets but instead the intricate and interrelated personalities that he summons up from the wonderful names he gives his ballplayers, names such as Sycamore Flynn, Melbourne Trench, Swanee Law, Old Fennimore McCaffree, Woody Winthrop, Damon Rutherford, and Jock Casey. As Robert Coover notes, “Henry was always careful about names, for they were what gave the league its sense of fulfillment and failure, its emotions.”

The novel’s linguistic play is constant. “Zifferblatt was a militant clock-watcher,” Coover notes at one point, and the attentive reader will chuckle, knowing that “Zifferblatt” in German means “clockface.” In the descriptions of Henry’s escapades with Hettie, the slang of baseball is pressed into use to describe sexual activities. Throughout the novel, the language and metaphors...

(The entire section is 539 words.)