I have chosen to refer to William Hoy as “Dummy” in this essay. In his lifetime, he repeatedly asked people to call him “Dummy”, and prefered this name to the name William. Though the name has negative connotations today, I felt that it was important, and ultimately respectful to his memory, to call the man what he asked to be called during his life.
illiam Hoy was born in 1862. At the age of 3, he suffered from an attack of spinal menengitis, which left him completely deaf. William attended the Ohio School for the Deaf for seven years, from 1872-1879, and was Valedictorian of his graduating class. He came back home to become a cobler in the local shoe business, which he eventually bought. Often times, he could be found just outside his shop playing baseball with all the kids in the neighborbood, and in the summers he joined the local baseball team, where he played catcher. It was around this time that everyone started calling him “Dummy”. In those days, Dummy didn’t mean that he was stupid, it just meant that he couldn’t speak. Dummy never minded the nickname, and even used to correct reporters when they would call him “William”, writing on his notepad “Call me Dummy like always.”
One summer during an away game in Urbana, a pitcher for the major leagues joined the opposite team. When Dummy was able to hit four times against the professional pitcher, he started thinking maybe he could play professionally. Dummy promised his mother he would be back in spring to take shoe order, and went to see if a professionaly team would have him. At his first tryouts for a minor league team called the Brewers, everything he did was applauded. But when Dummy asked them for $75 per month salary, they laughed at him and offered him $60. Dummy felt incredibly insulted by this, and went to try out for a team in Oshkosh instead, who was thrilled to sign him on as a center fielder for $75 per month, and even promised him time off to go take care of the shoe order at home. The Brewers tried to entice him back, but Dummy said he wouldn’t play for them if they gave him a million dollars, because they had tried to cheat him. Honnesty was always very important to Dummy, and he would always tell Umpires the truth, even if it meant that his team didn’t do as well.
Dummy turned out to be an amazingly great ball player. He seemed to have a 6th sense about where the ball would go, stole bases like crazy, and hit tons of home runs. He was the first outfielder to ever throw out three players at the plate in one game, and he lead the league in Putouts, Assists, and he had the highest fielding average in the league. He was the first outfielder to lead in all three categories. In 1888, Dummy reached the major leagues, playing for teams such as the Washington Senators, the Cincinnati Reds, the White Stockings, the White Sox, the Louisville Colonels, the Buffalo Bisons, the Angels, and the St. Louis Browns. He was one of only a handful of players to play in all five major leagues. People used to call him a “Flyhawk” because he would do anything to win the game or get an out for his team.
Though the use of signs in Baseball has been officially credited to Dummy’s deaf contemporary, Ed Dundon, Dummy undoubtedly helped perpetuate it. The signs used for outs and strikes in modern baseball are only slightly different than the modern American Sign Language terms, having been modified slightly to make them easier to see from very far away. His first year in the major leagues, opponents learned quickly that Dummy couldn’t turn his head to lip read the umpire and still be ready to hit the ball. Dummy asked the third base coach if he would lift his left arm if the umpire called a strike and his right arm if the umpire called a ball, eliminating that problem and giving Dummy a very good batting average. Around 1887, Umpires started to incorporate signs into their calls at games where Dummy played, but still using voice calls only at games he was absent from. On long bus rides, Dummy would often teach his teammates to sign, and almost all of them learned to speak some American Sign Language. In fact, often they would all sign amongst each other out in the field during games.
In 1898 Dummy married Anna Lowrey. She was a deaf woman who worked with Helen Keller and was a strong proponent of Oralism. Anna met Alexander Graham Bell in 1892, and he was very impressed with her speaking skills. Dummy and Anna had six children together. Anna taught Dummy to speak, and he knew over 200 words. The most common word he would speak was “Salary” when he wanted to know how much he was going to get paid, and many of his teammates remember him uttering “Rotten” under his breath, when he didn’t like the umpire’s call.
In 1903, Dummy retired from Baseball. He and Anna moved back to Ohio where Dummy became a dairy farmer and invented neat things to help him and Anna live in a hearing world. One invention was a “Doorbell”. When visitors came to the house, they would pull a chain near the door that would drop baseballs on the floor inside. The vibration would tell Dummy and Anna that they had company. In 1924, Dummy sold his dairy business and accepted a managerial position at Goodyear, where he hired many deaf workers during a time when many deaf people were discriminated against.
For years, Dummy always attended the day after opening day of the baseball season, saying that opening day was too crowded for him. The year he turned 99, he was asked to throw out the first pitch at the World Series, which he declined, but agreed to throw out the first pitch of the third game. When he was asked why, he said “too crowded.” He died in 1961, just shy of his 100th birthday. Surprisingly, William “Dummy” Hoy is not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Lately there’s been a huge push to see him added. His amazing skills and contribution to signing in baseball certainly proves that he deserves to be included. For more information about the quest to see him added, visit http://www.dummyhoy.com/, the official Dummy Hoy Homepage.