This past weekend millions of Americans celebrated Major League Baseball’s Opening Day. For some, it’s a rite of spring and for others it’s a near-religious experience. Just think of some of the great players to play the game: Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio all had a huge impact on baseball. But guess whose name is associated with every play in baseball? Don’t know? William Ellsworth Hoy. William WHO? Well, let me tell you a little about one player who has had a lasting impact on the game.
William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy (1862-1961) was a major league baseball player with nine different teams in five different leagues. During his rookie year in the majors (1888), Hoy led the National League with 82 stolen bases, a record that tops those of some of the most celebrated Hall of Famers. (Ty Cobb stole no bases during his rookie year, Babe Ruth had only 10). His career total: 597 to 607 stolen bases (depending on which account you read). Hoy had a respectable .288 lifetime batting average and 2,054 hits. He once hit .357. He had 1,004 walks and played in 1,798 major league games. In 1901 William hit the first Home Run of the newly formed American League for the Chicago White Stockings. That same year Hoy hit the second grand slam in the league (his teammate Herm McFarland had hit the first one earlier in the game).
Hoy’s own proudest achievement was throwing out three runners at home plate (from center field) in one game – an unprecedented and seldom equaled feat.
But none of that is what makes Hoy interesting; after all, you can go through the records of baseball’s past and find dozens of similar resumes. What makes Hoy interesting is that for everything he accomplished on the baseball field, he did not hear a single smattering of applause. Not one clap, not one cheer. On the bright side, he never heard a discouraging word either.
As a boy, William got the nickname “Dummy” because of his deafness. In today’s society calling him that name would not be acceptable, but back then dummy meant somebody who could not speak. When people called him William, Billy or Bill, he corrected them because he actually preferred Dummy.
Fans quickly learned of Hoy’s hearing problem and figured out a way around it; when Hoy’s performance was worthy of applause, the crowd would stand and wave to him (some called it the “Deaf Applause”).
Unfortunately for Hoy, the fans weren’t the only ones that learned to adapt to him. Realizing that after every pitch, Hoy would turn to the umpire in order to read his lips to find out if the pitch was a ball or strike (in those days, umpires were not nearly as demonstrative as they are today), opposing teams would “fast pitch” Hoy. The catcher would get the ball back to the pitcher and the pitcher would throw his next pitch while Hoy was still determining what the call was for the first pitch.
The strategy worked and Hoy’s average plummeted to .219 in 1885 while playing for a minor league team in Oshkosh,Wisconsin. But now it was Hoy’s turn to adapt. As the story goes, Hoy wrote out a request to the third base coach, asking him to raise his left arm to indicate a ball and his right arm for a strike. Hoy could follow the hand signals after each pitch, and be ready for the next. And the umpires and other players found these signals so useful that they became standard practice – they’re still used everywhere. Hoy adapted the “out” and “safe” signals from American Sign Language (ASL). In 1887 he would go on to hit .367 that year, and by 1888 he was in the majors.
After retiring from baseball in 1903, Hoy (now 42) bought a 60-achre farm near Mount Healthy, near Cincinnati. He operated it for 20 years, and sold it in 1924. He always retained his enthusiasm for baseball. He joined a local amateur team, coached Deaf-community teams, attended meetings of the Baseball Players of Yesterday, and kept in contact with old friends from his illustrious career.
On October 7, 1961, Hoy tossed out the first ball at the first game of the World Series game in Crosley 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 old.
Without “Dummy” Hoy, baseball just wouldn’t be the same.
- Led National League in stole bases in 1888 with 82 (his major league rookie year).
- One of the all-time leaders in stolen bases (Robert F. Panara ranks him 13th)
- Twice led his league in walks, and once in stole bases and at-bats
- Threw out three bass runners at home plate in one game, June 19, 1889
- Had the second grand slam (home run with bases loaded) in the American League with the Chicago White Stockings, May 1, 1901
- Was on four pennant-winning teams: Oshkosh Club of the Northwestern League (1887); Chicago White Stockings of the American League (1900 and 1901); Los Angeles Lookoos of the Pacific Coast League (1903).
- Milwaukee Brewers, Northwestern League – 1886
- Oshkosh Club, Northwestern League – 1886-1887
- Washington Senators, National League – 1889-1889
- Buffalo Bisons, Player’s League – 1890
- St. Louis Browns, American Association, 1891
- WashingtonSenators, National League – 1892-1893
- Cincinnati Reds, National League – 1894-1897
- Louisville Colonels, National League – 1898-1899
- Chicago White Stockings, American League – 1900-1901
- Cincinnati Reds, National League – 1902
- Los Angeles Looloos, Pacific League, 1903