The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.

by Robert Coover
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The Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 243

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...

(The entire section contains 1504 words.)

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  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Critical Essays
  • Analysis
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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.

Characters Discussed

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J. Henry Waugh

J. Henry Waugh, a fifty-six-year-old accountant for the firm of Dunkelmann, Zauber & Zifferblatt (German for “Obscurantist, Magic & Clock-face”). He is the creator (“J. Henry Waugh” is a play on “Jehovah”) of a dice-and-paper game involving the Universal Baseball Association, Inc., a baseball league consisting of eight teams, with twenty-one players each. Play is controlled by the throws of three dice, with various combinations representing hits, errors, strikeouts, stolen bases, and other (fifty-six in all) standard activities and strategies of a baseball game. Waugh plays out full seasons of the league. He keeps complete records (earned-run averages, most valuable players, and so on) for each season. In what is now Year LVI of the UBA, he has some forty volumes of records dating from Year IX. Henry’s ballplayers, managers, owners, and chancellors become real people to him, and his creation takes over his life. Year CLVII represents either Henry’s complete departure from his ordinary existence or the UBA’s survival of its creator.

Lou Engel

Lou Engel, Henry’s coworker. He is a devoted but inept friend whose corpulence attests his love of good food. He spends every Sunday evening at the cinema. He is the only person with whom Henry tries to share the UBA. During the single occasion on which they play, Lou is much more interested in recounting a film he has just seen than in playing Henry’s intricate and highly detailed game. True to his name, which is a play on “Lucifer Angel,” he messes up Henry’s creation by spilling beer on the score sheets and record charts.

Hettie Irden

Hettie Irden, an aging B-girl. She is Henry’s earthy (German irden) hetaera. Her lovemaking with Henry is described in the vocabulary of baseball, for example, “pushing and pulling, they ran the bases, pounded into first, slid into second heels high, somersaulted over third, shot home standing up, then into the box once more, swing away, and run them all again.”

Horace Zifferblatt

Horace Zifferblatt, the director and sole surviving member of the firm of Dunkelmann, Zauber & Zifferblatt. As Henry’s employer, he is exacting and intolerant of laxity but not without some patience and consideration. Well aware of Henry’s valuable competence, he puts up with Henry’s tardiness and absenteeism as long as he can; ultimately, however, as Henry’s preoccupation with the UBA causes him to neglect his work completely, Zifferblatt fires him.

Pete

Pete, a bartender, whom Henry calls Jake in his imposition of the UBA world on the actual world. Jake Bradley is a UBA second baseman who retires to barkeeping.

Mitch Porter

Mitch Porter, a suave and stylishly competent restaurant owner who serves Lou and Henry a gourmet meal of duck.

Benny Diskin

Benny Diskin, the son of a delicatessen owner. He makes regular deliveries to Henry.

Damon Rutherford

Damon Rutherford, a rookie UBA pitcher for the Pioneers team. He is cool, gracious, and superbly talented. After he pitches a perfect game against the Haymakers, his creator (Henry) assumes the Damon Rutherford identity in a night of lovemaking with Hettie. In a game against the Knickerbockers, Damon is fatally beaned by pitcher Jock Casey in accordance with Henry’s having thrown three consecutive triple ones with the dice.

Jock Casey

Jock Casey, a rookie UBA pitcher for the Knickerbockers. He is gaunt and emotionless. After fatally (and, to all appearances, deliberately) beaning Damon Rutherford, he is killed in a subsequent game by a line drive to the mound, as Henry manipulates the death by deliberately setting up a third consecutive dice throw of triple sixes.

Royce Ingram

Royce Ingram, a UBA catcher for the Pioneers. He hits the line drive that kills Jock Casey.

Brock Rutherford

Brock Rutherford, all-time great UBA pitcher and father of Damon and Brock II. He is fifty-six years old in Year LVI and is in the stands on Brock Rutherford Day when his son Damon is killed by a pitched ball.

Sycamore Flynn

Sycamore Flynn, the UBA manager of the Knickerbockers and ancestor of Galen Flynn.

Barney Bancroft

Barney Bancroft, the UBA manager of the Pioneers. He is murdered after he becomes the ninth chancellor of the UBA.

Raglan “Pappy” Rooney

Raglan “Pappy” Rooney, the UBA manager of the Haymakers, who lives to the age of 143.

Melbourne Trench

Melbourne Trench, the UBA manager of the seventh-place Excelsiors and ancestor of Paul Trench.

Hardy Ingram

Hardy Ingram, a descendant of Royce Ingram. In Year CLVII of the UBA, he plays the role of Damon Rutherford (equated with good) in the ritual Damonsday celebration.

Paul Trench

Paul Trench, a descendant of Melbourne Trench. In Year CLVII of the UBA, he takes the part of Royce Ingram in the Damonsday rite.

Galen Flynn

Galen Flynn, a descendant of Sycamore Flynn. In Year CLVII of the UBA, he appears to have been assigned the role of Jock Casey (equated with evil) in the Damonsday rite.

Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436

Most of the characters in The Universal Baseball Association are extensions of Henry's "protean" imagination. As indicated in the previous section, Damon is the ideal and Jock is a sacrificial victim. Only Hettie the prostitute, Zifferblatt the boss, and Lou Engle the friend, exist independent of Henry's imagination. Lou, a gourmet, is an interesting variation on Henry's quest for beauty and radiance. His zest for fine food is similar to Henry's need for his game to bring excitement into a dull life. After Damon's death, Henry invites Lou to join him in playing the game, but this last effort to share his experience with another person is a disaster because Lou cannot invest in the game the kind of seriousness Henry does. Instead of attending to the dice, Lou, like characters in The Public Burning (1977), talks about the plot of a film he has seen, again indicating Coover's interest in the degree to which cinema shapes our ability to respond to experiences. Henry's only experiment in sharing his creation ends when Lou spills pizza over the game board.

The most interesting characters of The Universal Baseball Association, however, have no existence independent of Henry's imagination. These are the heroes and legends of his game, the folklorists like Sandy Shaw and pranksters like Long Lew Lydell. Many of the managers, in their responses to Damon's death in year LVI, represent extremes of Henry's philosophical range. Barney Bancroft, "the old philosopher," attempts a calm and reasoned acceptance of a random event that must have meaning, thus recalling the main themes of The Origin of the Brunists (1966). Later Barney becomes League historian and eventually succeeds the sinister Fenimore McCaffree, a version of George Orwell's Big Brother in Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), as League chancellor but is assassinated in year LVII. With Bancroft's assassination comes the end of the Association's age of reason, although his book The UBA in the Balance remains a symbol of that era. Another manager, Pappy Rooney, joking about Damon's death and, while terrified of his own mortality, cruelly reminding others of theirs, represents the cynic. Yet another, Hellborn Melbourne Trench, hurt and intimidated by Pappy's cynical remarks and taking refuge in drinking to ward off his fear of failure, represents the decent man worn down by defeat and trying to find resources to enable him to deal with frustration. When his dismal team fires him after LVI, Mel opens a bar. Finally, Sycamore Flynn, the manager of Casey's team, is the alter ego Henry selects. Flynn undergoes a night of terror, but opts for the dutiful, pragmatist's response: he will play it out. So does his creator.

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