William Ellsworth “Dummy" Hoy: Baseball's Greatest Deaf Player

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website or at Facebook.

Around the turn of the 20th century, in much less PC times, there was an excellent baseball player named William Ellsworth Hoy. Because of the social agreements of the times back then, William was nicknamed “Dummy.” Why? Dummy Hoy was a deaf mute.

In those less enlightened times, many deaf mutes were nicknamed Dummy. And, for the record, William Hoy never minded his nickname, instead embracing it. If anyone ever called him “William,” he would always correct them, asking that they call him “Dummy" instead.

William Ellsworth Hoy was born in Houcktown, Ohio, in 1862. At the age of three, he went deaf from meningitis. He graduated from the Ohio State School for the Deaf and was the class valedictorian.

Hoy opened a shoe repair shop in his hometown and started playing baseball on the weekends. His natural talent was spotted almost immediately and in 1888, Dummy broke into the big leagues with the Washington Nationals. He was to play 14 seasons in the major leagues, playing with several different teams in Washington, Cincinnati, Buffalo, St. Louis, Louisville and Chicago.

Dummy Hoy was a superior baseball player, with a .288 lifetime batting average, while stealing 596 bases (some sources credit him with over 600 stolen bases). Besides being a very good hitter, with over 2,000 hits, Dummy was a superb center fielder. At the time of his retirement in 1902, he had set and held several fielding records for outfielders.

Possessing an excellent and powerful throwing arm, in one game in 1889, Dummy threw out three different base runners at home plate. According to former teammate Sam Crawford, his voice was nothing more than "a little squeak.” But his fellow outfielders would listen for the squeak and if they heard it, they know to back off, it was Dummy's ball to handle.

Fans were aware of his deafness and when he made one of his trademark brilliant catches, they would madly wave their hands and hats, letting Dummy know how much they appreciated his fielding prowess.

Contrary to the popular urban legend, Dummy Hoy did not invent the umpire's using hand signals to communicate strikes and balls. There are no contemporary articles in any newspapers or magazines giving Dummy any such invention and he himself never made the claim or tried to take the credit.

According to a November 6, 1886 article in The Sporting News, Ed Dundon, a deaf pitcher, was the first to use hand signals as an umpire in a game played on October 20, 1886, in Mobile, Alabama. However, Bill Klem, baseball's most famous umpire, is given credit for inventing hand signals to call strikes and balls on his hall of fame plaque in Cooperstown, New York. The hand signs myth aside, Dummy hoy had a very distinguished baseball career before finally retiring in 1902, after ending his career with the Cincinnati Reds.

In his personal life, Dummy had a very happy marriage to his beloved wife Anna Maria (who was also deaf). The Hoys ran a dairy farm in Mount Healthy, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati. The couple was to have six children together (one son, Carson, was to be an Ohio judge, while another son, Judson, served in the Ohio House of Representatives.)

Sam Crawford was to recall visiting the Hoys at their home. Because the couple were both deaf, they had an unusual "doorbell" installed at their front door. When a visitor would come over the see them, he would "ring" the doorbell, which would actually drop a heavy metal ball onto the floor of the house, causing a vibration. Feeling the vibrating floor, the Hoys would know they had a visitor and go to the front door to greet them.

In his post-baseball career, Dummy was also employed working for Goodyear, supervising hundreds of deaf workers during World War II. In 1951, he became the first deaf athlete to be elected to the American Athletic Association of the Deaf Hall of Fame.

In 1961, Dummy threw out the first pitch in game three of the World Series in Cincinnati. The crowd went wild, and although Dummy could not hear their cheers, he could see their applause.

Sadly, Dummy was to die of a stroke less than two months later, on December 15, 1961. William Ellsworth “Dummy" Hoy passed on at the ripe old age of 99.

Because of his superior talents as a ballplayer, there has been a campaign in certain quarters to get him elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. None however, to date, have been successful.

In 2001, the baseball field at Gallaudet University was named the William “Dummy" Hoy Baseball Field. And although the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown hasn't opened its doors to Dummy Hoy as yet, in 2003, he was officially inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.

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