HE DIDN'T HEAR THE ROAR
The next time a home plate umpire punches the air with his right hand to indicate a strike, think of William Ellsworth (Dummy) Hoy. Overlooked by Cooperstown, Hoy played in the majors from 1888 to 1902, 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. Besides being a magnificent ballplaye, Hoy was a deaf-mute, and it was to accommodate him, legend has it, that umpires first began signaling strikes.
Part of his story is retold in The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy, a play written by Allen Meyer and Michael Nowak and currently running at The Commons Theatre in Chicago. "Naturally, we hope the play moves to Broadway," says Meyer, whose daughter is deaf. "But we also hope to create some momentum for Dummy—the name seems derogatory, but that's what he himself wanted to be called—to get into the Hall of Fame." The play recounts the struggles of Hoy's first year in the minors—in 1886 with Oshkosh. Hoy, who is portrayed by deaf actor Dean Patrick Cannavino, had to deal not only with the isolation of deafness but also with teammates who shunned him. In one powerful scene the audience hears only a low drone—as Dummy would have—as the players exchange banter on the bench.
The final scene takes place in a radio booth before a game in the 1961 World Series, when Hoy, then the oldest ex-major leaguer, at 99, threw out the first pitch. The two announcers struggle to find something, anything, to say about this player who was a hero to thousands of youngsters with similar handicaps. Says Cannavino, who was an outfielder in Little League, "When I played, the umpire always knew I was deaf and made it clear to me what the call was. I had the good fortune to play after Dummy Hoy.
—LISA TWYMAN BESSONE