Unpredictability and Chance: Baseball in Fiction

words by Brandon Hendrick

painting by Norman Rockwell

Baseball is a sport defined by a clear logic. There are a set of rules that each team must follow to determine the victor. Within this structure, the ideas of unpredictability and chance are allowed to exist.  A number of authors, notably American, have used baseball as an influence on the fiction they create. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Robert Coover’s 1968 classic, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh. In this novel a character named J. Henry Waugh plays a fictitious game of baseball within his own head, with each play determined by the rolling of a dice.

Another notable fiction writer, Paul Auster, mentions a card game he devised called “Action Baseball” in his 1997 memoir Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure.

Jack Kerouac --- Image by © Allen Ginsberg/CORBIS
Jack Kerouac — Image by © Allen Ginsberg/CORBIS

Jack Kerouac also had a lifelong obsession with his own fictitious baseball league. Although it was never published, he made a number of playing cards over the course of his life. The Boston Fords, the New York Chevvies, and the Philadelphia Pontiacs are some of these invented teams, complete with a full roster of imagined players. Just as in the fiction they create, these writers morphed an expansive, unpredictable reality into something unique and personal to each of them.



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