Sunday, July 20, 2003

Alive and well


Deaf ballplayer 'Dummy' Hoy succeeded on and off field

Debra Kendrick

His life, all 99 1/2 years of it, tells perhaps one of the most classically American stories any of us have heard in a long time.

William "Dummy" Hoy, deaf since age 3, was outside his Houcktown, Ohio, cobbler shop, as was his custom so many afternoons, throwing and chasing balls with the children of the town. A passer-by, recognizing his talent, invited him to come play a game with Findlay's baseball team in a town 12 miles away.

Before long, Hoy was heading for Wisconsin in search of serious ball playing, promising his mother he'd be back in time to help fill fall shoe orders.

The first deaf baseball player to play in the major leagues, Hoy played for several teams from 1886-1902 but had his longest stint with the Cincinnati Reds. Reds fans adored him, and he loved Cincinnati so much that he settled here with his wife and six children, buying a 60-acre dairy farm in Mount Healthy.

He played 1,792 major league games, batted .288, had 2,054 hits and 597 stolen bases, and was the first outfielder to throw three runners out at the plate in the same game. In his earlier games, his success was particularly impressive because all calls were verbal, never heard by Hoy. In Oshkosh, Wis., early in his professional career, he asked a third-base coach to signal strikes and balls. That accommodation led to the signs flashed in the game today.

Hoy was a magnificent human being, as well. His friendliness and love of children led to discovery of his athletic gift in the first place, and his work ethic fostered not only a remarkable baseball career but success as a dairy farmer, personnel director of several hundred deaf workers for Goodyear, and achievement in a variety of other jobs.

Stories are plentiful of his walking 72 blocks from Mount Healthy to see his son, Judge Carson Hoy, preside in court; of dancing the Charleston in his 80s, and pruning trees in his 90s. Although the term might be considered offensive today, "Dummy" was the name Hoy preferred, correcting new acquaintances who thought it would be more courteous to call him William.

In 1951, Hoy was unanimously voted the first athlete inducted into the American Athletic Association of the Deaf's Hall of Fame. In 1961, he threw out the first pitch for a World Series game in Crosley Field. Two months later, just five months shy of his 100th birthday, he died in his sleep. Despite lobbying on his behalf during his lifetime and since, he has not yet been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

At noon on Aug. 3, preceding the Reds-Giants game, Hoy will be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame. In honor of the magnificent player whose first language was American Sign Language, the game (for the first time in Reds history) will provide both American Sign Language interpreters and closed captioning.

As Jeff Carroll, advocacy and education specialist for Cincinnati's Community Services for the Deaf, says he and about 50 more deaf people have tickets for the event. "Dummy Hoy was very active in the Cincinnati Deaf Club and a strong supporter of the community," Carroll says.

"Plenty of deaf people, including myself, are Reds fans and Hoy fans, and feel this recognition is seriously long overdue."

The Reds Web site, www.cincinnatireds.com, offers a diagram of seating. Sections 110-142 and 412/512-437/537 offer both a view of the game and the main scoreboard, where the closed captioning will be displayed. For tickets, call 381-7337.

Contact Debra Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax:

321-6430; e-mail: dkkendrick@earthlink.net.




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