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What Is The Universal Baseball Association?

Updated on March 10, 2020

Batter Up!

In a generation where fantasy sports had yet to exist, and sports gaming was somewhat new, Robert Coover's "Universal Baseball Association" from 1968 takes a look at one man's baseball league that looked nothing like the games of his era.

The Uniqueness Of The UBA

You won't find a Sandy Koufax or a Mickey Mantle in the Universal Baseball Association, or any player from the era of the 1960s for that matter. All of the players are the creation of Mr. Waugh, their fate all controlled by dice. Henry conjures up an eight-team league consisting of 84 games with nicknames that sound as if they came from the early 20th century, such as the Bridegrooms, Pastime Club, and Knickerbockers.

Set on Henry's kitchen table, everything that can happen in baseball is determined by a series of charts and the roll of three six-sided charts. Some combination of rolls could mean additional charts are looked at, producing more rare outcomes. New players into the league are rookies, and begin with disadvantages - more or less a way for the newbies to pay their dues. However, players with the best batting averages or pitchers with the lowest earned-run averages are considered "Stars", with the hits or outs coming a bit easier to them.

Waugh is the total embodiment of the league from rolling the dice, keeping its statistics and records, writing songs and poems about the league, even determining the future of the league through the politics of its existence.

Who The Heck Is Henry Waugh?

Henry Waugh is a sad, bored soul who finds his accounting job rather dull and eventually unworthy of his time and effort. He seeks friendship rarely, only keeping one man and one woman as his closest friends.

As the story begins, the Universal Baseball Association has been Henry's obsession for quite some time. He has played season after season, every one of the 84 games each of the eight teams plays each year. The team with the most wins out of its 84 games wins the championship, with Waugh keeping track of everything.

The games consume Waugh to the point where it takes up most if not all of his spare time, becoming an obsession of his. As the novel progresses, events in the league embody events in his life.

The Joys And Sorrows Of The UBA

The story begins with a watermark moment: Damon Rutherford, the son of all-time league great Brock Rutherford, is closing in on one of the rarer feats in baseball: a perfect game. As the accomplishment occurs, Waugh celebrates - albeit all to his lonesome. The UBA is Waugh's world, and he's very protective of it's being. When something good happens, he feels good about it.

Waugh's favorite team his nicknamed the Pioneers, the team young Damon Rutherford pitches on. Wrapped up in the progress of Damon's, Waugh is anxious to have him pitch again in a game that would celebrate Rutherford's accomplishment. In that very game, Rutherford is killed by a pitched ball to him while he's at bat.

As events turn unfortunate in the UBA, so does Waugh's life. He acts as though he had lost a family member, even though their fates are all determined by mere rolls of dice. Eventually, his accounting job seems more like a waste of his time than anything else, keeping Waugh from his obsession. Close friends try to console him and get him back on track, but they have difficulty coping with Henry's problem.

Eventually, he lets his closest male friend, Lou, cross the Rubicon that is Waugh's world. The world Waugh immersed himself in is way too complex for Lou to wrap his head around, and Henry bosses Lou around as if he's superior to him. When Lou spills a drink onto Henry's various charts and sheets, he's quickly excused from Henry's abode.

The accident hinders Henry's progress in the evolution of the league for some time, but by the end of the story, Henry discovers a way and means to get back at it again. Fired from his job, it's found that Waugh was living frugally - not having cashed several of his work paychecks.

In Closing...

Coover's novel was unique for its time - foreshadowing the need for sports fans to create their universes as has been existent in the more than a half-century that has proceeded the book. In today's world, anyone can create their fantasy world on games such as Out Of The Park Baseball, but Coover and his fictional J. Henry Waugh got to that point light years ahead of time.


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