A couple of weeks ago, I watched the excellent documentary ‘I See the Crowd Roar.’ It is about one of the greatest American baseball players in history—William Hoy. He was also one of the first players who was deaf.
Hoy went by the nickname ‘Dummy.’ I shudder when I write that name because in 2012 it is considered by many a derogatory word, one that implies that a person isn’t smart. But in the era in which Hoy lived and played baseball—the late 1800s to early 1900s—his alias implied a person who was deaf and mute (not oral).
Hoy Fact Sheet
1) He was born during the Civil War and died in 1961 at the age of 99.
2) After having spinal meningitis at age 3, Hoy became deaf.
3) Hoy is considered the most accomplished deaf baseball player in major league history, playing from 1888-1902 (including for the Cincinnati Reds).
4) Some historians credit baseball hand signals for “safe” and “out” as originating with Hoy. He couldn’t hear the umpire behind him calling the strikes during games, so Hoy asked his coaches to use these hand signals when he was up at bat.
5) Hoy received many honors during and after his career, including induction into the American Athletic Association of the Deaf Hall of Fame. A committee, which includes my friend JJ Jones, continues to petition for Hoy to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Hoy has become an icon in the Cincinnati Reds team, which includes a sign language version of the National Anthem on Monday night games.
6) His wife, Anna, was also deaf. They raised six children. After retiring from baseball, Hoy became an executive with Goodyear after supervising deaf workers there during World War I. The family owned and operated a successful dairy farm in Ohio.
What I Learned from Hoy
A hundred years ago, a person who was deaf did not have the resources that I tend to take for granted today. Vocational rehabilitation counseling. Hearing assistive technology. Sign language awareness in business and in schools, with the exception of schools for the Deaf, which were available in Hoy’s day and which he attended. Sensitivity to the needs of people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
What I admire most about Hoy was his determination to fulfill his calling as a professional baseball player. Not everyone embraced Hoy as a player. They thought, ‘How can he hit or catch a ball if he can’t hear his coach’s voice?’ What surprised coaches, teammates, and fans was how incredibly smart Hoy was. Not only did he help develop hand signals on the field, but he taught American Sign Language (ASL) to some of his teammates. He was a gifted writer and kept a pencil and notepad with him to communicate by writing with coaches. Hoy practiced baseball as if life depended on it. He could run faster, hit harder, and catch better than most. In his early years, he proved by his remarkable skills that he was the best.
If William Hoy could accomplish so much a hundred years ago—without much outside support—what’s stopping me from reaching my goals in 2012?
What can YOU learn from this man?