Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mysteries of History: William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy

Mysteries of History: William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy
Written by Scott M. Cooper

William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy was born in 1862, in Houcktown, Ohio. He was born with the ability to hear, but lost his hearing after a bout with meningitis at age three. Hoy graduated from the Ohio State School for the Deaf in Columbus as class valedictorian and began his professional career in 1886. Hoy was a gentleman and very polite. He was a small man, 5’4”, and weighed around 145 pounds; he was probably the shortest major-league outfielder in history. But what he lacked in heft, he made up for in swiftness. Hoy played for several major-league teams from 1888 to 1902.

William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy
During his rookie year with the Washington Nationals, Hoy led the National League with 82 stolen bases, a record that tops those of some of the most celebrated Hall of Famers, like Babe Ruth who stole 10 bases during his rookie year. Hoy held a career total of 597-607 stolen bases, depending on which account you read. Hoy’s proudest achievement was throwing out three base runners at home plate in one game, an unprecedented and seldom-equaled feat. When Hoy began his professional career in Oshkosh, all umpires’ calls were shouted, so while at bat, Hoy would have to ask his coach if a ball or strike had been called. The opposing pitcher often took advantage of Hoy’s distraction, quick pitching him, and sending out the next pitch before he was ready.

In 1887, Hoy wrote a request to the third base coach, asking that the coach raise his left arm to indicate a ball and his right arm for a strike. This helped Hoy to be ready for the next pitch. The umpire and the other players found these signals to be so useful that they became standard practice. Hoy taught his teammates how to communicate in sign language, which provided to be very beneficial on the field. Hoy was well liked by his teammates and never got thrown out of the game for misconduct. His honesty was legendary. During one game, near dusk, the umpire called the batter out for catching the ball on the fly, which sparked quite a commotion. The coach asked Hoy, who was playing center field in that game whether or not the ball was caught “on the fly” or “on the bounce”, Hoy told him it was caught on the bounce. The umpire called the batter safe. Although Hoy’s teammates were furious, he was satisfied that he had told the truth.

Advertising card featuring Hoy.
The fans loved Hoy and when he had made a spectacular play, the crowd would jump from their seats and wildly wave their arms and hats, an early form of “Deaf Applause”. Most importantly, he played a pioneering role in the creation of the hand signals that are still used in baseball games throughout the world. Hoy adapted the “out and safe” signals from ASL (American Sign Language). This intricate system of baseball hand signals from umpires to outfielders can be traced to him. The Gallaudt University Bisons dedicated their on-campus baseball field to William “Dummy” Hoy, a player they called an inspiration and a role model for the deaf community, who was a prime example of a person growing up deaf and becoming successful in a hearing world.

In August of 1902, Hoy was released by the Reds and finished out his career with 1,792 games in the major-leagues. In 1903, Hoy bought a sixty acre farm outside of Cincinnati and operated it for the next twenty years. He sold the property in 1924. Hoy also worked for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, serving as the personnel director of several hundred deaf workers and also coached the Goodyear Silents baseball club from 1919 to 1920, when the Akron “Deaf Colony” was at its absolute peak and boasted outstanding sports clubs. In 1951, Hoy was unanimously voted the first player to be enshrined into the American Athletic Association of the Deaf’s Hall of Fame. The AAAD began to lobbying to get Hoy inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, while he was still alive.

Ever since the Hoy committee began actively campaigning for his induction, they have brought Hoy’s case to the attention of the Veterans Committee of the National Baseball Hall of Fame (which inducts players from past eras). Thanks to their persistence in increasing Hoy’s visibility, his name has been included on the annual ballots several times. But year after year, Hoy has been bypassed in favor of players with less impressive careers. The campaign continues. In the summer of 2002, the Hall of fame Veterans committee announced major changes to the election procedure - increasing the size of the voting body, removing previous restrictions, and instituting a bi-annual election to replace the annual one. The rules of the 19th century players are still being reevaluated. These changes will possibly enhance the chances of Hoy being inducted. Hoy was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 2003.

1902 Cincinnati Reds
To the deaf community, Hoy is also a hero who was able to break down the barriers between the hearing and the hearing-impaired, a task that was difficult to achieve in the early twentieth century, when society was less accepting of the handicapped. On October 7, 1961, Hoy tossed the first ball at the opening day of the third World Series game at Crosby field (Reds vs. Yankees). Shortly afterwards, he became ill and was hospitalized. On December 15, 1961, he died of a stroke. He was 99 years, 5 months, and 8 days old, just six months shy of his 100th birthday. He hoped to reach 100…and he almost did.

About the Author:
Scott M. Cooper, the author of "Mysteries of History," is a Massachusetts native, now living in Florida. Cooper, a freelance writer, is the owner of The Elegant Quill, which offers ghost writing, fiction, non-fiction, editing, and proofreading services. He may be contacted at smcooper5289@gmail.com.

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