The Los Angeles Dodgers posted a recent promotion that had a sketch of third baseman Justin Turner, who was adorned in a beret and smock while holding a paint brush in front of an easel. The caption identified Turner as “The Artful Dodger”, an allusion to a character in the famous Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist.
For all of us who caught the reference right away, I offer an entire roster of baseball players who share a name with a character from the writings of Dickens.
First Base: Wally Pipp
Young Lou Gehrig filled in for him for what was supposed to be one day, but history tells us that the Iron Horse stayed there for the next 2,632 games. In the fine novel Great Expectations, Pip was the protagonist who was bequeathed a fortune from an unknown benefactor.
Second Base: Jason Bates
He played five seasons for the Colorado Rockies in the Nineties, while Charley Bates was a member of the gang of thieves in Oliver Twist.
Shortstop: Barry Larkin
The Hall of Fame shortstop spent his entire career with the Cincinnati Reds. Miss Larkins was the first love of David Copperfield, a beautiful girl who ended up marrying a soldier in the book.
Third Base: Tommy Lastella
Hitting a combined .284 over the past two seasons, he helped the Chicago Cubs to consecutive National League West Championships. When you drop the first letter from his last name, it matches the snobbish girl with whom Pip falls hopelessly in love in Great Expectations.
Left Field: Danny Heep
Uriah Heep was a clerk of Mr. Wickfield in David Copperfield, while the baseball player was a consistent hitter for the Astros and Mets during a ten year Big League career.
Center Field: Fred Snodgrass
He spent nine years mainly with New York Giants until leaving the game in 1916, and Augustus Snodgrass appears in The Pickwick Papers as a member of the club named after the title of the novel.
Right Field: Al Oliver
As if his career with Pittsburgh Pirates had not been impressive enough, Oliver went to the Texas Rangers and captured the American League batting title. His last name of course is the first name of young Mr. Twist in the title of the Dickens novel to became a huge hit on Broadway.
Catcher: Bill Plummer
Dickens’s The Cricket on the Hearth was centered on the Plummer family, and in the Seventies Bill served as the backup to Johnny Bench on the Big Red Machine.
Starting Pitcher: Bob Sykes
He was a lefthander who played for both the Tigers and Cardinals in the Seventies and Eighties, while Bill Sikes was a boy with whom Oliver Twist fought but later befriended.
Relief Pitcher: Hi Jasper
This right hander who was part of the bullpens for the White Sox, Cardinals, and Indians in the second decade of the twentieth century, but Mr. Jaspers was the lawyer who eventually married the female protagonist in Bleak House.