Books: Play Ball

THE UNIVERSAL BASEBALL ASSOCIATION, INC., J. HENRY WAUGH, PROP, by Robert Coover. 242 pages. Random House. $4.95.

The writer who tries to build a serious novel on the restricted world of baseball starts with two strikes against him; it is an ungrateful subject. If he then compounds his folly by adding religious symbolism, most readers will head for the showers.

Such literary facts of life obviously do not scare the gifted Iowa-born Robert Coover. In his second novel, he employs precisely these concepts and what's more, swings for the fences. He does not quite make...