William "Dummy" Hoy; Proving It Could Be Done!

Jonathan StilwellCorrespondent IAugust 25, 2009

William "Dummy" Hoy, baseball's third deaf major league player, left a legacy worth knowing.

He was born May 23, 1862 in Houcktown, Ohio.  He graduated valedictorian of his class from the Ohio School for the Deaf.

His first love was baseball, leaving home and his shoe repair store to pursue a professional career. 

Odds were against him.  He was small, 5' 4".  His deafness prevented him from hearing the crack of the bat, or any verbal communication by umpires or teammates.  But he was determined to prove he could succeed.

He landed his first professional contract with a team in Oshkosh, Wisc., in 1886.  By 1887, he had worked out a system for his third base coach to give him hand signals to show balls and strikes; right hand for a strike, left hand for a ball.

It is widely believed this initiated through their popularity, wider use of hand signals for umpires, coaching staffs and players. 

Hoy readily taught his teammates sign language to facilitate communication. 

After implementing signs, Hoy hit .367 in '87, prompting the Washington Senators to sign him for the '88 season.  He led the National league in stolen bases his rookie season with 82.

Hoy is one of only 29 players to play in four of the five acknowledged major leagues - the National League, the Player's League, the American Association, and the American League.

Throughout his career he played for the Washington Senators, the St. Louis Browns, the Cincinnati Reds, the Buffalo Bisons, Louisville Colonels, and the Chicago White Stockings.

In Louisville, his teammates included Fred Clarke, Honus Wagner, Connie Mack, Rube Waddell, and Charlie Comiskey. 

Charlie Comiskey would have a particularly large influence in Hoy's career.  As a player/manager he was instrumental in hiring him in St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Chicago.

Hoy possessed unusual speed.  He stole close to 600 bases throughout his career.  (records vary). 

He used his speed and cunning  in the outfield to great advantage, becoming one of the great "fly-hawks" of the early game. 

It was reported that he could throw strike after strike to home plate from center field.  He consistently was among league leaders in assists.

In one game, he threw out three runners at home plate. The record, tied twice, has not been broken. His catcher that day was Connie Mack.

Hoy was well-liked by teammates and was popular with fans. After a brilliant catch, fans would stand en masse and wave their arms and hats wildly, knowing Hoy couldn't hear their cheering.

At the plate he was one of the original "spark-plugs". Hoy batted close to .300 (recorded at .288-.292) for his career, but also had a great eye.  He led his league in walks more than once. He established an impressive career on base percentage of .386.

In 1900 he played for Charlie Comiskey's Chicago White Stockings the last year before they were included in the American League. 

Although the stats don't count on the official records, in 134 games played, Hoy led the league with 45 assists, over 300 put outs and a .977 fielding percentage.

In 1901, he hit the second grand slam in the history of the newly formed American League.  He went on to lead the league in walks (86) that year, as well as help lead his team to the pennant.

He had settled in Cincinnati, where he was married in 1898.  He returned to Cincinnati for his last major league season in 1902.

His love for the game led him to keep playing in 1903 for the Los Angeles Looloos of the Pacific Coast League.

There he played all 211 games of the schedule, (at age 41), scored 156 runs, recorded 419 putouts, and stole 46 bases while the team won the Pacific League pennant.

Upon retirement in 1902, he was second only to Billy Hamilton in bases on balls, with 1,004.  Hoy held the major league record for most games played in center field (1726)until 1920—his record eventually broken by Tris Speaker.

He also set career records for putouts (3,958), and total chances (4625).  Upon his retirement, he was second in games played in the outfield (1795), seventh in assists (273), and third in double plays (72).

He scored over 100 runs nine times.

He was a success everywhere and every season he played.

Hoy remained active both in the deaf community, and in early player's organizations.  He was active in deaf, youth and adult baseball and softball organizations, coaching and playing.

A reunion in 1939 with former teammates, Clark Griffith and Connie Mack garnered media attention, with a published snapshot of the trio communicating in sign language.

Before his death, and at age 99, he was invited to throw out the first pitch at the third game of the World Series in Cincinnati in 1961. He was elected to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 2003.

William Hoy never campaigned for his inclusion in baseball's Hall of Fame. Several of his teammates did though—Connie Mack, Honus Wagner, Clark Griffith and Sam Crawford all thought Hoy should be in the Hall. 

They all played with him, and certainly had seen enough baseball between them to know a Hall of Fame player when they saw one! 

William "Dummy" Hoy started out as the small deaf boy with big dreams, going off to play professional baseball against all odds.  Along the way, he proved it could be done.

He became one of baseball's original "spark-plugs" and finest "fly-hawks".  His determination, honesty, character, and energy left a lasting impression on all he met.

He became a hero to the deaf community and to all handicapped people to aspire to reach for their dreams.

He was unanimously voted as the first person in the American Athletic Association of the Deaf's Hall of Fame in 1951.

Dummy Hoy proved it could be done. He is one of our great pioneers of baseball.