Today’s Random Player That Sticks Out To Me In My Research Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is Dummy Hoy. Hoy was born William Ellsworth Hoy on May 23, 1862. He was one of five children growing up on a farm in Houcktown, Ohio, and when three years old he contracted meningitis, and his bout left him deaf and mute. He entered the Ohio School for the deaf when he was ten and graduated as valedictorian of his high school class in 1879.
After he graduated he became a shoemaker (which apparently was common for deaf people; not sure why). During the summers the locals would go barefoot, which slowed business considerably, so Hoy would play baseball. Even though he was a good player, he was often overlooked because of his handicap. Eventually he caught on with Oshkosh of the Northwest League in 1886 and reached the majors in 1888 with Washington of the National League. Upon his arrival he posted this on the clubhouse wall:
“Being totally deaf as you know and some of my teammates being unacquainted with my play, I think it is timely to bring about an understanding between myself, the left fielder, the shortstop and the second baseman and the right fielder. The main point is to avoid possible collisions with any of these four who surround me when in the field going for a fly ball. Whenever I take a fly ball I always yell I’ll take it–the same as I have been doing for many seasons, and of course the other fielders let me take it. Whenever you don’t hear me yell, it is understood I am not after the ball, and they govern themselves accordingly.”
He didn’t really yell – it was more of a squeak. But it didn’t stop him from putting together a fine career. In 1890 the Players League was formed and Hoy went and signed with Buffalo. In the league’s one season Hoy hit .298/.418/.371. The following year he went to the American Association and played for Louisville, hitting .292/.424/.360. The AA folded after the season, a 10 year run that failed to keep up with the National League.
Hoy went back to Washington for two seasons and then went to Cincinnati. In 1901 he went to a new major league, the American League. He led the AL in walks that season at age 39, then went back to Cincinnati for one final season and posted a .389 OBP.
He wasn’t much of a power hitter (career Slg. of .374), but was a very intelligent and patient player. He never had a season where he struck out more than he walked (career 1,006 walks, 345 strikeouts, .386 OBP). He racked up 2,048 hits, tying him with Johnny Bench on the all-time list. His 1,429 runs scored has him tied with Harry Hooper.
The nickname came from the slang of the time. Dumb was used to describe someone who couldn’t speak and it was also common to connect the ability to speak with intelligence. Hoy himself would often correct someone who would call him William. There have been stories about Hoy helping develop the signals umpires use for balls and strikes, though there is nothing documenting this to be true.
In 1898 Hoy married Anna Marie Lowry, who was also deaf and would go on to become a prominent teacher of the deaf. Together they raised three children, had two more die during childbirth, and a third shortly after a bout with Spanish flu. He also took over the responsibility of raising his nephew, whose mother had died and father was in bad health. The boy’s name was Paul Helms and he later became the founder and sponsor of the Helms Athletic Foundation and Helms Hall in Los Angeles. He also financed the United States Olympic Committee in 1932 and 1936.
After retiring from baseball he bought a dairy farm and was successful at that. He also worked as a personnel director for Goodyear and eventually sold the farm and worked for a book firm until he was 75. In 1951 he was the first deaf athlete inducted into the American Athletic Association of the Deaf Hall of Fame. In 1961 he threw out the first pitch of Game 3 of the World Series as the oldest living player ever (13 players have since cleared the century mark). He died in December of that year.
In 1987 a play about Hoy’s 1886 season was produced. “The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy” was met with mixed reviews.