William Hoy was not the first deaf player in Major League Baseball, but he was the most successful player. He ended his career, which spanned from 1888 to 1902, with 2,048 hits, 596 stolen goals and 725 RBIs. In the 21st century, Hoy was considered by the Veterans Committee to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“He was confronted with prejudices, especially at the start of his career,” explains Nancy Churnin, who wrote William Hoy’s story, a children’s book intended to inform and inspire. “But he also made some good friends. He taught his teammates sign language, and they loved it. “
Early in his baseball career, Hoy was given the nickname “Dummy” – a common (albeit offensive) nickname at the time for those who couldn’t speak. Hoy became better known by this nickname than by William or Billy.
William Hoy defies expectations
Born May 23, 1862 in Houcktown, Ohio, a hamlet about 85 miles south of Toledo, Hoy was modest, calm, detailed, and polite. His parents were farmers. When Hoy was three years old, he contracted meningitis, leaving him unable to speak or hear. He was sent to the Ohio School for the Deaf, where he graduated as a valedictorian in 1879.
“The expectations for the deaf were so low then,” says Churnin. “His parents thought he would learn to put on shoes and live at home all his life. He had bigger ideas.
During the summer, as a youth, Hoy played baseball in his neighborhood. A passerby during a game asked Hoy to play for the Kenton, Ohio team against a home team. He did, doing well against pitcher Billy Hart, who played one season with the St. Louis Browns in a professional league.
In 1886, Hoy signed with a professional team in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The referee’s calls for balls and strikes in the league confused Hoy – he couldn’t hear them, and the stadium didn’t have a scoreboard for him to follow the count. So the coach of third base signaled it by raising the left index finger for a ball, the right for a strike.
The more the system worked, the better Hoy played – he was even used when playing in the big leagues.
Hoy reached .367 for Oshkosh in 1887, the same year his “horse grip” became part of baseball lore. In the season finale against Dubuque for the league title, Hoy played center. Fans, some with their horses and strollers nearby, circled the pitch. In the ninth inning, Hoy miraculously caught a ball deep in the area where the horses were standing.
“An elder insists that Hoy hopped on a horse’s back, rolled up his glove and… kerplunk!” He caught the ball to pull the side, ”according to a mid-20th century account. “Another old-fashioned twist to the Hoy grip was that he spun between a few horses, put his arms around the horse’s neck and hey presto, he made the trap! “
Hoy becomes second deaf professional baseball player
In 1888, the Washington Nationals of the National League signed Hoy, making him the second deaf professional baseball player after Ed Dundon, who played a season in the big leagues. In his rookie season, Hoy led the league with 82 goals stolen.
Hoy, who was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed between 145 and 160 pounds on his playing days, was known for his speed and excellent throwing arm that allowed him to play shallow in center field. He was a left handed hitter but a right handed pitcher.
Players and fans adapted to Hoy’s deafness. Fans stood up and waved Hoy over to let him know they were applauding. When Hoy joined a new team, he posted a note in each clubhouse so his teammates would know how he handled flying balls.
“Every time I pick up a flying ball,” he wrote, “I always scream, ‘I’m going to take it’ —as I’ve done for many seasons, and of course other defensive players leave it to me. take. Anytime you don’t hear me screaming it’s understood I’m not after the prom, and they rule each other accordingly.
In addition to the Nationals, Hoy played for the Buffalo Bisons, St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators, Cincinnati Reds, Louisville Colonels and Chicago White Sox. He was one of 29 players to play in four of the five recognized major leagues: the National and American Leagues, the Players’ League and the American Association.
During a 14-year career in the big leagues, Hoy has earned the respect of players and management. “There are no serious players in the country today,” Reds manager Tom Loftus told reporters in 1890.
“Hoy hasn’t known anything but baseball from the start of the season until it closed,” the manager continued. “He’s watching every point, and while we were in New York, he kept me busy answering questions about what I would do in the event of this or that supposed room.” He’s a good serious player, the best of the Buffalo team.
On May 26, 1902, in his last big league season, Hoy defeated Luther Taylor, another deaf player. “I’m glad to see you”, he signed to him before placing himself in the middle of the field.
In his last professional match, with Los Angeles in the Pacific Coast League in 1903, Hoy ended his career on a high. As fog hung over the field in the ninth inning, a batter threw a flying ball into the outfield. Hoy had a superb catch to end the game.
Is William Hoy in the Baseball Hall of Fame?
In 1898, Hoy married Anna Lowry, with whom he had three children. Anna, also deaf, has taught deaf children for much of her life. After his playing career, Hoy bought land in Ohio and became a successful dairy farmer. At 80, he drove 72 blocks to see his son, Justice Carson Hoy, preside over the court.
Hoy died on December 15, 1961, having lived from Presidents Abraham Lincoln to John F. Kennedy.
“He was very famous in his day,” says Churnin. “But he lived in a time when there was antagonism against the deaf community. They laughed at him, they laughed at him, people told him he was out of place.”
Although Hoy was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame, he was not selected for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Hall of Fame member Sam Crawford, who played with Hoy on the Reds in 1902, touted his former teammate’s defensive skills, base running and value for Hall’s consecration.
“There isn’t a single player in the Hall of Fame who has faced physical challenges, not even exposure.” said Churnin. “I can’t tell you what [Hoy’s] selection would mean for his family and for the deaf community.