IM this article to a friend!

December 16, 2002

The game according to Hoy

From: - 16 Dec 2002

Baseball Perspectives
Jerome Holtzman

He was no slugger, but he had a respectable .288 career batting average over 14 seasons and was acknowledged as an outstanding outfielder, thrower and baserunner. According to some reports, he threw out three men at the plate, not merely in one game but in one inning. At the time of his death in 1961, five months before what would have been his 100th birthday, he had been the oldest former Major League player.

His name was William Ellsworth Hoy. He hit the first grand slam home run in American League history, and was known as Dummy Hoy, a seemingly cruel Victorian appellation but this was a century ago, long before the current era of political correctness. He was deaf and almost a mute.

The author of a book called "The Washington Senators, An Informal History," wrote about Hoy and the Washington team of 1888 that went into Spring Training in Savannah, Ga. When he reported, center fielder Hoy posted a prepared statement on the clubhouse wall:

"Being totally deaf, as you know, and some of my clubmates being unacquainted with my play, I think it is timely to bring about an understanding between myself, the left fielder, the shortstop, 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 will 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.

"If a player hears the patter of my feet, pay no attention as I am only backing up. I watch both the player and the ball, and never have I had a collision."

Hoy was a bridge between the old game and the new one. The year 1888 was the first year when a base on balls was not counted as a hit in the averages. It was the year when they discarded the rule that allowed the batter four strikes, and the end of the era when the batter could call for a high or low pitch to his liking.

Hoy was born on a farm in Hancock County in Northwestern Ohio on May 23, 1862, of parents from Scotland. At the age of three he fell ill with spiral meningitis, which deprived him of his hearing. He had no formal schooling until he was 10, when he was sent to a school for the deaf in Columbus, Ohio, where he learned to become a cobbler. Later, he had his own shoe repair shop.

Hoy married Anna Lowrey, who was deaf and had worked with Helen Keller. He played with local baseball teams but didn't leave home until he was 24 and joined the Oshkosh, Wis., club in the Northwest League. His first professional season was a disappointment: a .219 batting average.

His failure at the plate was attributed to his lack of hearing. He couldn't hear the umpires' shout and was unaware if the pitch was a ball or strike. Frustrated, he urged the umpire (a one-umpire system was still in use as late as 1906) to communicate with him with hand signals. It was an invention that changed baseball history. Some, but apparently not all of the umpires, raised their right hand for a strike.

Hoy began to flower. In his second season, also with Oshkosh, he hit .367, stole 82 bases and helped lead the club to the pennant. His Major League career began the following season with Washington in the 12-team National League. He bounced around the big leagues without interruption for 14 years -- with Buffalo in the Players League, two more years with Washington and later with Cincinnati, the St. Louis Browns, Louisville Colonels and the Chicago White Sox.

Hoy was only 5-5 and 145 pounds and batted and threw left-handed. Charles A. Comiskey, the White Sox owner and co-founder of the American League, often said he was the best leadoff hitter he had seen. Hoy played two seasons for Comiskey in Chicago and was in center field for the American League opener, April 24, 1901. He was the first White Sox batter and delivered one of the seven hits in an 8-2 win over Cleveland. A week later, on May 1, he hit the league's first grand slam home run. Hoy played in 130 games, batted .293 with 30 stolen bases, and was a force in the White Sox pennant triumph.

He retired two years later, in 1903; at the age of 41, his final season, he played in 211 games, the full schedule of the Los Angeles club in the Pacific Winter League, a minor league. His l4-year Major League totals, taken from the Baseball Register, are impressive especially when considering his huge handicap: 1,668 games, 7,078 at-bats, 2,40l hits, 514 stolen bases and a .288 average.

He is believed to be the only outfielder to win a triple fielding crown, in 1900 at the age of 38, leading the American League in putouts, assists and percentage. His best-known fielding achievement was throwing out three runners at the plate in the same inning -- all of whom reportedly tried to score from second on a single to center. Connie Mack, then a rookie catcher, made all three putouts.

The game was played in Indianapolis on June 19, 1889 when Hoy was with Washington. Robert L. Davids, a prominent historian and founder of SABR, the Society of American Baseball Research, refused to acknowledge Hoy's accomplishment because newspaper accounts were spare and didn't indicate when the assists occurred. But Davids did find corroboration in an agate note in the Washington Star: "Hoy played remarkably well yesterday. He threw three men out at the plate."

Another respected researcher, Bill Deane, formerly of the Hall of Fame, also challenged the claim Hoy was responsible for the umpire's strike signal:

"We can find no contemporary articles about Hoy, or even any written while he was alive, that claim a connection between Hoy and the umpire's hand signals -- much less any claim by Hoy himself. It is our impression that these stories began circulating after his death in 1961. Some writer probably assumed that since hand signals were introduced at about the same time as Hoy was finishing his career, there must have been a connection. Once an inaccuracy reaches print, it spreads like wildfire."

Still, there seems to be considerable evidence that Hoy was the pioneer. A more plausible explanation is that in the beginning all of the umpires refused to honor Hoy's request and that a league directive followed some years later, probably as late as 1910 when a second umpire was added.

Whatever, the legendary Bill Klem, a showboat umpire who began umpiring in the National League two years after Hoy retired, is officially credited with inventing hand signals -- as noted on his Hall of Fame plaque.

Larry Gerlach, a history professor at the University of Utah who has written several excellent books on umpires, insists it was neither Hoy nor Klem. Gerlach insists there is documentation that Cy Rigler was the first umpire to use hand signals, on April 30, 1905 in a minor league game in Evansville, Ind.

There probably have been as many as a half dozen deaf players who played in Major League games but couldn't hear the roar of the crowd. No. 2 behind Hoy was Luther "Dummy" Taylor, a right-handed pitcher who had been deaf since birth and won 117 games, all but one with the old New York Giants. Taylor missed a chance to appear in the 1905 Series because of a rainout. The postponement gave Christy Mathewson another day of rest. Matty came back the next day and pitched his third successive Series shutout.

Over the years there have been several Hall of Fame committees formed in support of Hoy's candidacy, all to no avail. An officer of the American Athletic Association for the Deaf a month ago expressed the hope Hoy would be elected in the impending vote of the Veterans Committee and said, "William Hoy is to deaf America what Jackie Robinson is to black America."

It won't happen this year. A screening committee has knocked Hoy off the ballot.

Jerome Holtzman is the official historian of Major League Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

© 2002 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.