Albert Einstein presented his famous critique of quantum mechanics when he said ?God doesn?t play dice with the universe.? In this story, we have J. Henry Waugh, milquetoast accountant, who--despairing with his daily life--creates his own ?universe? in the form of the ?Universal Baseball Association.? In this way, he sets himself up as the ?god? of this realm, and then determines the destinies of these teams (as well as the lives of the individual players) by the roll of three dice. Henry keeps meticulous records in ledger books, as he charts the rise of promising ?rookies,? the trajectories of careers, and the eventual demise of veteran ?players,? some of whom become managers, owners, or even ?chancellors? of the league. Actuarial tables and the dice determine mortality, as these faux lives play out. Ironically, poor Henry becomes so entangled in his private universe that he can no longer function socially and certainly not professionally with his mind-numbing duties at the firm of Dunkelmann, Zauber & Zifferblatt. Henry needs to get a life, yet he has created a rich world, full of picaresque players (active, retired, and deceased), replete with an astonishing cast of characters, each with personal histories, and political affiliations. Of course, all these ?personalities? are manifestations of J. Henry Waugh's inner self, but the roll of the dice determines all the exigencies that one might witness at a baseball game: strike outs, hits, base running, adroit fielding, and errors. With statistically rare combinations, the dice also allow for ?Extraordinary Occurrences.? Such an Occurrence provides the conflict around which the plot develops and plays out. And ultimately, it created a situation in which the ?god? of this universe was attempting to override the stochastic realm of the dice. Thus, the story hinges on how the crisis is resolved among the ?players? and in the life of J. Henry Waugh.
For me, the most intriguing part of the book occurs where one of the creations of Henry?s imagination (one of the ?managers? of one of the ?teams?) has a dark epiphany in which he enters the sham ball park on the night before a crucial game and encounters inert player tokens that line the bench and occupy the positions of the field. It is a spooky sequence in which the limits of reality are stretched, and this character in Henry?s game becomes dimly aware of his place in this universe (as a ?pawn? in a game of chance--all on top of Henry?s kitchen table!). But this story line is not pursued, although occasional metaphysical allusions are presented, as are some of the mystical/numerological aspects of the game of baseball.
A major weakness occurs because of the myriad names of the ball players, and especially when--generations after the ?Extraordinary Occurrences?--the descendants of ?players? and others created for the league/universe are caught up in a mytho-religious ceremony in which the ?Events of Yore? were to be played out once again. The accountant?s ledger is needed to keep track of all the names. Moreover, the author could have spared us the (all-too-common) song lyrics of one of the ?retired players.? An alternative ending might have occurred when the ?god? of this universe messed with the dice. Having interfered with the pure statistics of his game, perhaps Henry could have walked out into his sad street and received a dose of ?reality? in the form of the hard randomness that occurs in the real world. In the end, I give the author very high marks for creativity, but the execution was not what it might have been.
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