J. Henry Waugh is as tormented a character as one could find in a Russian novel; he stands at the novel’s center: Action is seen either through his eyes or within his mind. The people he meets in the “real” world have a certain vitality of their own: his boss Zifferblatt, his friend Lou, Hettie (a B-girl who appears in several scenes). Yet overwhelmingly, the characters of interest are the baseball players. Because the game is constantly on Henry’s mind, he tends to see the real world through the filter of his game.
For example, he sees everything in terms of names. While Henry is riding on a bus passing a bus stop, the word “whistlestop” occurs to him, and he has invented a new character, Whistlestop Busby, a second baseman.
The two pivotal baseball players are Damon Rutherford, a young man of great reserve and confidence, and Jock Casey, a rookie like Damon, but one whom fate will cast as a villain rather than as a hero. Henry’s hatred for this dice-created phantom grows until, for the first time in the novel, he cheats: He arranges the dice to have Casey killed in retribution. As Henry’s grip on reality weakens, it is clear that Jock and Damon are becoming less and less individuals and more and more archetypal figures from myth: Damon, like Baldur in Norse mythology, a dying god, and Casey, the scheming Loki arranging his death.