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

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  2,081 ratings  ·  239 reviews
A satirical fable with a rootless and helpless accountant as the protagonist. Alone in his apartment, he spends all his nights and weekends playing an intricate baseball game of his own invention. The author has won the William Faulkner Award and an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award.
Paperback, 256 pages
Published May 1st 1971 by Plume (first published June 1st 1968)
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Robert Morgan Fisher Not Coover's best book. Baseball-centric stories are an acquired taste. An early, non-essential work from one of America's true fiction geniuses. Prob…moreNot Coover's best book. Baseball-centric stories are an acquired taste. An early, non-essential work from one of America's true fiction geniuses. Probably played better to a 1960's audience. (less)

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Adam Dalva
Aug 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Underrated gem - it's a difficult book, especially in the second half, but it has both beauty and daring going for it. The story of a man who gets more and more into his simulated baseball game. Less about baseball than about theology, and most of all it seems to me to be a parable about writing. It has some elements that I disliked - way too much nastiness for nastiness's sake - but the high points make up for it. Extremely creative. It also bears saying given the rise of fantasy sports: weirdl ...more
Megan Baxter
Jul 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is one weird book. But I liked it a lot.

Two personal personality quirks might account for this:

1) The main character has created an entire fantasy baseball league, and is in the process of playing out year 56. Not with real players. Entirely created and maintained and imagined by J. Henry Waugh, Prop. Years are played out, deaths are mourned, injuries happen, he creates complete lives for each player, all centered around the game of baseball.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn
Vit Babenco
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. is a story of escapism, a tale of fleeing from reality…
The bus was jammed, they had to stand. People jostled, rammed them moistly toward the rear. Rain drummed on the roof. If skyscrapers were penis-prisons, what were the buses? the efferent tubes? The driver barked orders. Passengers protested at the shoving. Lou was the biggest in sight, so everybody turned their darkest looks on him. A woman complained about getting elbowed, and
Lee Klein
May 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Thought at first this was five stars all the way. Loved the hokey old-timey baseball lingo, the imagined play by play, wisecrackery, the names, all the TWIBby "how 'bout that?" boyhood baseball wonder and a box of Cracker Jacks, the joys and sorrows of the personalities and stats, the history and the present, especially in that all of it -- the games and the chatter in the dugouts and off-field scandals -- very explicitly took place in an obsessive gamer's imagination. Laughed out loud when I le ...more
Jan 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Now with Afterword

This is not a book about baseball. It's a book about a man who enjoys his solitude and crates a whole world of stats and player biographies in a fake a basball league that's (real?), the players live and die,break records as it's creator losses his fucking mind. He invets a whole league, he explains that he takes words he sees in real life and turns them into ball player names, I come up with few myself. Here is my starting line up and team name.
note the words used are words I
Sep 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: coover, u-s-lit, baseball
As someone who, as a child, invented whole basketball teams: bouncing a ball on the narrow sidewalk between two houses, becoming each carefully imagined player, each with an age, height, weight, scoring average, assists, rebounds, shooting style, tendencies; imagining a basket and a backboard where none existed against the siding, shooting each unique way, and seeing if I could make them score and make them win; well, the idea of The Universal Baseball Association doesn't sound so crazy. I can u ...more
What shocked me, after hearing about Coover, was that the plot of the book isn't the star here, nor the characters. Rather, the charm of the book is almost entirely in the structure, which is remarkably playful, complex, and nuanced. I was expecting some sprawling Pynchonesque thing, but instead I got a fun, almost breezy, frequently comic novel touched with metafictional elements. ...more
James Murphy
Nov 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Imagine a man sitting quietly at a kitchen table. He sits before a jumble of papers illuminated by an overhead light. He's playing a game by throwing dice. His name is J. Henry Waugh. Suggests Jehovah, doesn't it? It's supposed to. Henry is the inventor of an incredibly complete and complex baseball game in which practically every possible event is determined by the roll of 3 dice. His Universal Baseball Association is a league of 8 teams populated by imaginary players. Henry plays seasons with ...more
Mattia Ravasi
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Video review:
Featured in my Top 20 Books I Read in 2017

Very dense and occasionally boring, but impossibly rewarding and filled with so, sooo many layers of meaning and with reflections on everything from loneliness to death, from artistic creation to control. A minor masterpiece for sure.
Oliver Bateman
Aug 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Infinite Jest aside--that novel is in a league of its own starring Geena Davis, Rosie O'Donell, and Tom Hanks as the foul-mouthed ex-ballplayer with a heart of gold--this is best thing I've read all year. Here's why:

a) First, it's beautifully written. Robert Coover is often grouped with D Barthelme and J Barth, but he's a clearer writer than the former and a better stylist than the latter. On the strength of this work, I picked up a cheap copy of Pricksongs and Descants, a collection of Coover's
Feb 10, 2012 rated it liked it
I feel like this could easily be a five-star book...for someone else. Probably someone who likes baseball a lot more than I do. I'm definitely impressed with what it accomplishes; you could basically say it's an account of a man's life falling apart at the seams due to an obsession with a proto-World-of-Warcraft. And in that way, it's eerily prescient.

Well executed, too. Henry Waugh's fantasy baseball league is imagined from the ground up, complete with its own history and a huge group of fully
Aug 16, 2009 rated it did not like it
I'm eager to discuss this book primarily because of how much I disliked it.

Moments ago, I summarized it for my husband, and he said, "That sounds interesting. I'd never read it, but if you were stoned and had that idea for a book, it'd be pretty exciting."

That's the gist: If I were intoxicated or otherwise impaired and had the idea for this book, it would be exciting. Now, running that idea out for 242 pages is simply mad, and let's face it, cruel.

I understand why this book is considered great b
Aug 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Will by: Chad Post
Man, I love baseball. It's hard to write about the literary merits of this mind-bending book, of which there are DEFINITELY many (in short, without talking about baseball, the created world becomes the real world), without talking about baseball. And the fact that Coover created a complex board game equivalent of modern fantasy/tabletop baseball that used statistics in ways that were never discussed until Billy Beane's SABRmetric-focused appearance in "Moneyball." But the world that Coover creat ...more
Feb 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this one by Coover. It's probably as aided by the fact that I also love baseball. I listen to podcasts and the radio broadcasts of my favorite team. The way Coover captures the game is pitch perfect. In fact the only quibble I have is that Coover is a Reds fan. ...more
Apr 08, 2019 rated it liked it

"War seemed to be a must for every generation. A pageant to fortify the tribal spirit. A columnist plumped for bloodless war through the space race. Henry sympathized with the man, but it could never work. Mere abstraction. People needed casualty lists, territory footage won and lost, bounded sets with strategies and payoff functions, supply and communication routes disrupted or restored, tonnage totals, and deaths, downed planes, and prisoners socked away like a hoard of calculable run
Luke Fowler
Jan 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
Come for the baseball, stay for the songs.

OR: Dungeons and Dragons for the deeply mentally sick who also love Lou Gehrig
Dec 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Most of this novel reads like a Charlie Kaufman script - sad sack at dead-end job creates and immerses himself into a creative world that fractures then floods what little arks of order and sailboats of sanity buoyed and bounced the boy through the seas of anonymous adulthood. And, to make it more painful, attempting to explain the rules and regulations, the priveleges and privations of the population of this interior planet just pushes real ("real" i.e. adult, happy in day-to-day anonymity) peo ...more
Oct 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Well, first things first, I don't give a damn about baseball. This book probably would have meant more to me if I did, but I enjoyed it a lot nonetheless. It's too bad my baseball-loving father doesn't give a damn about experimental novels-maybe between the two of us we would have been able to make a bit more sense of this thing.

But anyway, this is only tangentially a novel about baseball. It's more about imagination, and creativity, and statistics, and rules, and (ugh, sorry-but I can't think o
Pat Settegast
Aug 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Basically, this is a pre-D&D roleplaying geekout disguised as a quite elegant baseball novel. The sports writing is stellar but the plot seems to plod pretty predictably along, and frankly I didn't get the ending at all...! I thought there'd be nine chapters because of all the stuff about numerology, but there were only 8... and the author decided to create this kind of meta-russian roulette round out of the last chapter: that seemed a little sloppy: I was just starting to like some of the other ...more
E. C. Koch
Let me be the millionth person to offer this aperçu: when one gets onto a Tetris jag and plays for hours at a time and then, say, walks outside for the first time in a week, one will absolutely start to see bricks and breezeblocks and shingles on the façades of buildings falling in the shape of tetrominoes and one will be inclined to manipulate them in one’s mind ’cause Tetris is some seriously addictive, hallucinogenic shit. Tetris is also, pace comrade Pajitnov, pretty simple. I have never, wh ...more
Matt Ely
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Typically, a few times per year, I will finish a title and immediately think to myself, "That was a perfect book." Did Coover write The Great American Novel? No, I don't think anyone is claiming that. But I remained engaged with the book enough to see that, by the end, it accomplished everything it set out to do in an unexpected and unique way. And, just as importantly, it resonated with me personally.

I think that resonance depends on personal factors. I'm a baseball fan with an analytical incl
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I love to read a book, especially when recommended by a friend, and think “oh yeah, this is an all-timer for me.” I love everything about this book. The beatnik-esque prose, the imagination behind the fantasy baseball game, the themes of healthy/unhealthy passion, isolation, and the longing for someone to just please fucking understand what you’re trying to do with your life every single day. A beautiful, bruising novel.
May 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, sports
Disappointed with this one. I wanted to learn more about Henry but instead the focus was instead on the players he created. Ultimately frustrating.
Graham P
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This isn't your sentimental or saintly baseball book. It's an unwinding narrative of creator vs. his creations, the kind of existential novel that exemplifies the American pastime, yet pays its respects to literary deviants like Samuel Beckett & Flann O'Brien & Stanley Elkin. It is also a novel about obsession and loneliness, as we skip from being alongside the game's creator, Henry Waugh (think of the game as a more complicated version of Strat-O-Matic) to the fantasyland diamond itself. At tim ...more
Apr 24, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: baseball
Lonely middle-aged guy creates an all-consuming fantasy baseball 1968. Sure, table top simulation games were around back then, but Henry Waugh takes it to an Internet level of obsessiveness. This has been on my reading list for some time and it is tough to find--had to go the interlibrary loan route. Coover is an aggressively creative writer, but far too often I found myself struggling to stay afloat in the overflowing stream of consciousness. Granted, it's to be expected in a book a ...more
Daniel R.
Jul 21, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: port-authority
Reading this book felt like being trapped in an elevator with a downward spiraling hallucinating individual. You keep hoping that the visions will pass and some sensible narrative will form but instead the sporadic glimmers of sanity quickly fade back into nonsense. Viewed as a case study in obsession and imagination the book does I wonderful job, I just found the execution on that theme excruciating.
Jan 27, 2020 rated it liked it
This book starts strong and then gets really boring around the middle. Which is why it took me two years to finish it. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have finished it at all if I weren’t lending it out to someone I’m pretty sure is going to lose it.

When I first started reading this book, I couldn’t stop talking about it, but it is tedious af after a while. It is full of a bunch of names and stats that you have almost no chance of truly following - which is kind of the point. We are supposed to be
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I loved it at first and now I'm kind of torn. This book is self-indulgent and I probably should have read it more slowly. By the end I was kind of overwhelmed, but given the utter insanity of the last chapter I think that would have happened anyway. It's a book about baseball and a man's descent into madness, but it's also using those subjects to deliver a pretentious disquisition on theology, free will, etc., and I was more into the former. But the conceit is riveting and the baseball writing i ...more
Jul 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, Lucian promised it would be weird! Emphatically not about baseball, but a non-baseball lover would struggle to get through it. I need to read more by Coover.
Joe Kraus
May 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
I’ve read this one before, long ago, and re-read it now with a purpose: to see if it’s a good fit for a class a friend and I are preparing on fandom and faith. This one certainly has both. Our protagonist – whose name may be a play on Yahweh – invents a fantasy baseball game and populates it not just with statistics but also personalities. When a character emerges as a great new hope for him, but is then killed through an unlikely and unlucky roll of the dice, he eventually reimagines him as a q ...more
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Born Robert Lowell Coover in Charles City, Iowa, Coover moved with his family early in his life to Herrin, Illinois, where his father was the managing editor for the Herrin Daily Journal. Emulating his father, Coover edited and wrote for various school newspapers under the nom-de-plume “Scoop.” He was also his high-school class president, a school band member, and an enthusiastic supporter of the ...more

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“Bottom half of the seventh, Brock's boy had made it through another inning unscratched, one! two! three! Twenty-one down and just six outs to go! and Henry's heart was racing, he was sweating with relief and tension all at once, unable to sit, unable to think, in there, with them! Oh yes, boys, it was on! ” 3 likes
“And so, finally, he’d found his way back to baseball. Nothing like it really. Not the actual game so much—to tell the truth, real baseball bored him—but rather the records, the statistics, the peculiar balances between individual and team, offense and defense, strategy and luck, accident and pattern, power and intelligence. And no other activity in the world had so precise and comprehensive a history, so specific an ethic, and at the same time, strange as it seemed, so much ultimate mystery.” 3 likes
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