Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 02, 2003
BASEBALL/HISTORY: Who You Calling Dumb?

One of my favorite baseball stories of all time is that of William Ellsworth "Dummy" Hoy - the greatest deaf player in major league history.

Dummy Hoy played the outfield for 14 seasons from 1888-1902 for the Washington Nationals (twice), Buffalo Bisons, St. Louis Browns, Cincinnati Reds (twice), Louisville Colonels and the Chicago White Sox. In a stolen base-friendly era, Hoy was one of the leaders, stealing 594 over his career, including a league leading 82 in his rookie season. At last check, he was 17th on the all-time stolen base list. He was also very adept at drawing walks (he led the league twice) and scoring runs. He scored over 100 runs eight times in his career. Baseball-reference.com lists Brett Butler as one of the most similar modern players to Hoy and it is easy to imagine the similarity.

Hoy had a reputation as an excellent fielder despite the 20-40 errors a year he made in the outfield. This was the era of tiny gloves, no lights and atrocious field conditions. Large numbers of errors were a big part of the game. (For a good example of this, check out Piano Legs Hickman's ill-fated 1900 season at third base.) Yet, there is a good deal of evidence that he was a fine outfielder, including the fact that, on June 19, 1889, he threw out three runners at home plate in one game - one of only three players ever to do that.

Dummy Hoy's lasting impact cannot be seen in his numbers though.

Hoy's handicap is cited as the reason why players, managers, umpires and coaches adopted hand signals. Hoy's exploits are recounted in several places in the greatest baseball book ever written, "The Glory of Their Times":

Did you know that he was the one responsible for the umpire giving hand signals for a ball or strike? Raising his right hand for a strike, you know, and stuff like that. He'd be up at bat and he couldn't hear and he couldn't talk, so he'd look around at the umpire to see what the pitch was, a ball or a strike. That's where the hand signs for the umpires calling balls and strikes began. That's a fact. Very few people know that - Hall of Famer "Wahoo" Sam Crawford

I roomed with Dummy in 1899, and we got to be good friends. He was a real fine ballplayer. When you played with him in the outfield, the thing was that you never called for a ball. You listened for him, and if he made this little squeaky sound, that meant he was going to take it - Tommy Leach

My favorite anecdote about Dummy Hoy is recounted by Sam Crawford in that same book, recounting an ingenious doorbell used in the Hoy household:

Dummy had a unique doorbell arrangement in his house.... Instead of a bell on the door, he and his wife had a little knob. When you pulled this knob, it released a lead ball which rolled down a wooden chute and then fell off onto the floor with a thud. They felt the vibrations, through their feet, and they knew somebody was at the door.

Dummy Hoy overcame his handicap and the casual cruelty of his era - of course, the nickname "Dummy" alone, which was applied to other contemporary deaf players, is far from sensitive - to become an excellent major league player. He would live to the age of 99, reputed at one time to have lived the longest life of any major league player, to throw out the first pitch in a World Series game in 1961. His children and grandchildren would go on to prominence in Ohio's legal community and commemorations in his honor have been held in Buffalo, Cincinnati, Columbus, Louisville and Oshkosh.

Dummy Hoy has become a hero to many in the deaf community and his life and exploits are celebrated on a web site in his honor, advocating his induction into Baseball's Hall of Fame. While I think his accomplishments come up short, I admire the effort and the man who inspired it.

Posted by The Mad Hibernian at 07:41 AM | Baseball 2002-03 • | History • | The Mad Hibernian | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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