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

Robert Coover

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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

(Great Characters in Literature)

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 entire section is 825 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Most of the characters in The Universal Baseball Association are extensions of Henry's "protean" imagination. As indicated in the...

(The entire section is 436 words.)