Robert Coover’s oft-forgotten 1968 baseball novel, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., opens in the middle of a game: “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!” Brock is Brock Rutherford, retired star pitcher, and Brock’s “boy” is his son, the rookie pitcher Damon Rutherford.
But Brock doesn’t exist, Damon doesn’t exist, and the game isn’t real. It’s being played out with dice and a pencil by Coover’s protagonist, Henry Waugh, alone in his kitchen.
The Universal Baseball Association is a novel about fantasy baseball, though the word “fantasy” never once appears in the book.
When literary people talk about Coover, who is eighty-five, they talk about him as a postmodernist and a master of metafiction. He’s known chiefly for his short stories or for his 1977 novel about Richard Nixon, The Public Burning. But in 2011, Overlook Press reissued The Universal Baseball Association in paperback, and the book is more relevant now than ever before.