In October, 1961, at Crowley Field in Cincinnati, Ohio, an old, deaf gentleman named William E. Hoy stood up to toss out the first ball of the World Series. Most people at Crowley Field on that day probably did not remember Hoy because he had retired from professional baseball 58 years earlier, in 1903. However, he had been an outstanding player and the deaf community still talks about him and his years in baseball.

William E. Hoy was born in Houckstown, Ohio, on May 23, 1862. He became deaf when he was two years old. He attended the Columbus Ohio School for the Deaf. After graduation, he started playing semi-pro baseball while working as a shoemaker.

Hoy began playing professional baseball in 1886 for Oshkosh (Wisconsin) of the Northwestern League. In 1888, he started as an outfielder with the old Washington Senators. His small stature and speed made him an outstanding base runner. He was very good at stealing bases during his career. In the 1888 major league season, he stole 82 bases. He was also the Senators’ leading hitter in 1888. Hoy was ambidextrous; he threw right-handed and batted left-handed. On June 19, 1889, he threw out three batters at the plate from his outfield position.

The arm signals used by umpires today to indicate balls and strikes began because of Hoy. The umpire lifted his right arm to indicate that the pitch was a strike, and his left arm to signal that it was a ball.

For many years, people talked about Hoy’s last ball game in 1903. He was playing for Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast Winter League. It was a memorable game because Hoy made a spectacular play which won the game. It was a very foggy night and, therefore, very hard to see the ball. In the ninth inning, with two men out, Hoy managed to catch a fly ball to make the third out in spite of the fog. Los Angeles defeated their opposition and won the pennant for the year.

Hoy married Anna Marie Lowery. The Hoys had many friends. Since they could not hear a doorbell or a knock on the door, Hoy improvised. He put a baseball in a groove by the doorbell mechanism. The pulling of the bell knocked the ball onto the floor. The vibrations announced the visitor.

After he retired, Hoy stayed busy. He ran a dairy farm near Cincinnati for 20 years. He also became a public speaker and traveled giving speeches. Until a few years before his death, he took 4 and 10 mile walks several mornings a week. On December 15, 1961, William Hoy died at the age of 99.

Adapted from: Goodstein, A. & Walworth, M. (1979). “Interesting Deaf Americans.” Washington, DC: Gallaudet University. Used with permission from the Gallaudet University Alumni Association. Revised by Vivion Smith.

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