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

Robert Coover

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., creates an alternate reality that echoes and comments on the human condition. Using the game of baseball as symbolic of human life in general, especially life’s spiritual and sexual urgings, The Universal Baseball Association, as the novel is most often known, is a humorous, profound, and often moving work.

The plot is simple. J. Henry Waugh, an accountant with the firm of Dunklemann, Zuber and Zifferblatt, has created a baseball game in which events are determined by the rolls of three dice and a series of tables indicating specific events, as well as by Waugh’s own considerable imagination. Having established a league with eight teams, Waugh plays season after season on his kitchen table. As the novel opens, he is deep into the fifty-sixth season. Not entirely coincidentally, fifty-six is his age.

Damon Rutherford, pitcher son of a famous pitcher of the UBA, accomplishes that rarest of baseball feats, a perfect game, in which the opposing team has no runners reach first base. It is a mystical event in Henry’s life, and he celebrates by making actual contact with another human being by picking up Hettie Irden, the “B-girl” from the local bar, and making wild, passionate love with her.

Henry is late for work the next day, but he does not care. He even leaves early after being lectured by his boss, Horace Zifferblatt. His only interest is in...

(The entire section is 468 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

This is technically Coover's most brilliant achievement in the novel form, rivaling his stories "The Babysitter" and "A Pedestrian Accident"...

(The entire section is 516 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Basbanes, Nicholas, A. “The Traditionalist and the Revolutionary.” Biblio (September, 1998): 10. An interesting profile of Penelope Fitzgerald and Robert Coover that offers insight into the different ways each approaches writing. Although Basbanes does not directly discuss Coover’s novel, the essay does reveal Coover’s thoughts on fiction writing, a subject that has a bearing on The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.

Maltby, Paul. Dissident Postmodernists: Barthelme, Coover, and Pynchon. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991. An astute comparative analysis of the differences and similarities between the works of these three authors. The discussion of Coover is particularly perceptive. A bibliography is included for further reading.

Miguel-Alfonso, Ricardo. “Mimesis and Self-Consciousness in Robert Coover’s The Universal Baseball Association.” CRITIQUE: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 37 (Winter, 1996): 92-107. Miguel-Alfonso argues, using a baseball motif, that Coover’s novel deals with interactions between the various components of fictional writing. He analyzes Coover’s control of the story, referentiality, the interplay between writer and reader, and other story elements.

Ott, Bill. Review of The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., by Robert Coover. Booklist 95 (September 1, 1998): 168. A brief but favorable review which addresses the issue of free will in Coover’s novel.