Happy Birthday, Billy Hoy!

In days when we were less worried about things like political correctness and more about the character of the person instead, the nicknames doled out to players would frequently carry an unnecessary meanness.  And yet the names were precise and memorable.

William “Dummy” Hoy is probably the meanest name – worse than Rube Waddell or Fats Fothergill ever got – handed to Hoy because he was deaf and dumb, meaning he couldn’t speak.  What God gave him, though, was class and intelligence and skill.   Born during the Civil War (May 23, 1862), he went to a “trade college” and was going to be a cobbler when scouts saw him playing ball with kids.  He got a job playing for Oshkosh, Wisconsin and within two years he was in the National League.

Hoy played forever, starting in the National League in the 1880s, swinging a year in the Players League (1890), getting time in the American Association, playing in the American League in 1901, and finishing his career by plating the first run in the newly expanded Pacific Coast League.  To tell Hoy’s story requires a book – and apparently someone is working on it (I should have started it years ago, to be honest).  If you want a good place to start, try www.dummyhoy.com – a site dedicated to his memory, including trying to get Hoy into the Hall of Fame.  There’s a pretty good article about Hoy written when Hoy was still alive (he made it to 99, passing on December 15, 1961) that you can find in an old Baseball Digest that Google has now digitized – and it’s worth a read.

What we know is that Hoy’s inability to hear umpire calls contributed to the signals used by umpires to call pitches, denote safe or out calls, and more.  Tommy Leach said that if you played in the outfield with Hoy, you couldn’t call him off so you did what you could to get to the ball unless you heard Hoy’s barely audible squeak.

I wish I knew more – but there are a few things you can figure out by looking at his record.  He played in five different leagues and played on a number of teams.  He hit for a decent average and stole a ton of bases.  He had a good throwing arm and still holds the record for throwing out three runners at the plate in the same game.  He was well-traveled and apparently well-liked – and yet he was constantly moving from team to team to team.  He was aggressive and intelligent, he was honorable, but teams found him expendable – probably because of his physical limitations.  Owners and managers might not have felt too comfortable around him – despite the fact that he seemed to be productive.

Hoy played with Rube Waddell in 1899 while in Louisville.  There was a day in spring training when the hotel they were staying in caught fire and everyone got involved with putting it out.  When players went to check on Hoy, Hoy and his wife (I think she was also deaf) had already packed and gotten out – they “felt” the commotion and then saw it, which prompted their hasty exit.  Another story that circulated about that spring was a stretched story saying Rube’s first night in town included waking everyone up in their hotel rooms to introduce himself – except Hoy, who didn’t answer the door.  (It never happened – it was a story modified over the years by Honus Wagner.)  There have to be a million stories about him – as an athlete and as an amazing person – so I want to know more.  (Here’s one I found.)

You know what I want to know?  Why aren’t there others like him playing baseball?  I really think that 100 years ago, when there were fewer avenues for people and EVERYBODY had to mainstream, if you were different you had no choice but to try and fit in.  We might not have been as nice in terms of name calling, but if you made it – you made it.  Nowadays, we try to compartmentalize everyone and everything, and in the process of doing that, the mainstream is so much smaller – and EVERYONE is treated differently.  People who are different never get a chance to see what is similar about each other because we’re too busy celebrating differences – and we’ve eliminated opportunities to bring people together for common causes.

If a book doesn’t come out about him soon, I know what my next project should be.

Happy Birthday, William Hoy.  In heaven, you can hear the applause.


5 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Billy Hoy!

  1. Great story…and thanks for the Google link. I’ve been thinking about subscribing to Baseball Digest again. One sector that has decided to overlook differences in favor of “mainstreaming”, “inclusion”, and a curriculum standardized on a “normal curve” is education. While research shows such practices benefit some children’s social functioning, it does disservice to many (such as gifted and talented youth and those with addictions). Just another reason our schools are chronically suffering. Interestingly, two groups that still have “special” schools in some states are schools for the deaf and schools for the blind. Specialized schools allow students to receive state of the art instruction and not feel marginalized due to their disabilities. Perhaps the next Dummy Hoy could come from Gallaudet? The Bison field a team and even have a sports HOF on their website: http://www.gallaudetathletics.com/sports/bsb/index

  2. Thanks, Andy, for your reply! It’s not that I don’t think that there is a role for specialization or a place for being different – but that maybe we have swung too far in the other direction.

    One thing that amazes me about Rube is how normal his life is – despite the fact that he really couldn’t, on his own, take on many of the responsibilities of a normal adult. That wouldn’t happen today.

    In Hoy’s case, his limitations were physical – and yet he overcame those limitations to excel. If a book about Hoy comes out (or if I get to do it), one would think that an interesting part of the story would be his NON-baseball life, which might have been harder for him to feel mainstreamed than his IN-baseball life.

    • Great idea…comparing the non-baseball to the baseball life. Historically, I’d think people just did not feel empowered in Dummy’s day to press for the accomodations they needed. Things like sign language at events, parking spaces, elevators, etc. People seemed, therefore, to be acclimated and accepting, when in reality they were just making do with what they had and suffering in silence. If one doesn’t know what is possible, one doesn’t miss what one doesn’t have. Interestingly, you suggested that the hand-signals umpires now use may have in part come about to provide an accomodation for Hoy. Now there is an example of where making an accomodation for one person benefits all. Not sure that makes the case for mainstreaming, but it is certainly a positive outcome of it. Had Hoy been relegated to a “deaf-only” league, umpire signals may not have become common. This is why I actually support school options…if a child wants to mainstream, lets make the accomodations, but if they need more specialized conditions, let’s provide those options too.

      • The question is how do you balance the two – at what point do you, by accommodating greater specialization, limit mainstreaming.

        There are benefits in both. So long as differentiation doesn’t become so specialized as to prevent the positives (and the people) from getting back to the rest of society, we lose the gains.

        I go back to the original premise – and that is to ask when is the last time a deaf person was an accomplished athlete? Curtis Pride comes to mind. As a player, he was no Billy Hoy… Essentially we went nearly 100 years between them.

  3. Pingback: Lave Cross on William “Dummy” Hoy | Mighty Casey Baseball

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