By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The first time the Reds had a real ballpark worth talking about, Dummy Hoy was patrolling center field. That was the Palace of the Fans at the turn of the century.
Hoy takes center stage again tonight - albeit posthumously - in Great American Ball Park, to be inducted into the Reds' Hall of Fame.
William 'Dummy' Hoy had 597 stolen bases in 14 seasons.
Also being inducted is Big Red Machine left fielder George Foster. The induction ceremony will take place on the field at 7:30 p.m., just before the start of the Reds-Giants game.
None of Hoy's descendants who will be on hand is old enough to have seen Hoy play his final season in Cincinnati in 1902. He was 40 - and yet still had enough of his legendary speed to steal the final 11 of 597 career stolen bases ... and leg out the last two of his 121 career triples ... and the last 16 of his 249 career doubles ... and hit .290, two points above his career average of .288.
There will be no video clips of Hoy on the big screen tonight showing him tearing around the bases at the Palace ... or making an over-the-shoulder catch of a deep drive off the bat of Honus Wagner ... or throwing out a runner at home.
But use your imagination.
Hoy was 5 feet 4 and 148 pounds, according to Joseph M. Overfield, of the Society for American Baseball Research. By comparison, Joe Morgan, who will be in town today for an ESPN telecast of the Reds-Giants game, was three inches taller and weighed a few pounds more - and was considered diminutive.
By today's standards, Hoy would be considered tiny, but his speed was the equalizer. He could "flat go get it" - whether it be an extra base, a ball hit into the gap or even a pickoff throw to second base. Because he was so fast, he played a shallow center field.
"He was the first man to play center field short," said the late Clark Griffith, who at the time owned the Washington Senators.
And now, imagine this.
Imagine this when you think of the crack of the bat, and the "I got it" yells of converging fielders and even the roars of the crowd, which are so much of a fueling force for taking that extra base, tracking down that distant drive, unleashing that powerful throw.
William Ellsworth Hoy could not hear.
And he could not speak.
"You think about how we sometimes treat people who are disabled in even this day and age," said Craig Sampson, 46, a great-grandson from Liberty Township, "and then you think back 100 years to what it had to be like for him - and you can't help but be filled with admiration for him."
Also impressive, said Sampson, are the children Hoy and his wife, Anna Maria Lowrey (she was also deaf) raised: among them was the late Carson Hoy, the Hamilton County prosecutor and a Common Pleas Court judge. Carson and his late sister, Clover, were both experts in hand-signing communication, according to Dummy's obituary in December 1961.
An Oct. 25, 1948, story in the Enquirer on the Hoys' 50th wedding anniversary said Anna was the third-fastest lip-reader in the country. She attended Gallaudet College in Washington, D.C., where the baseball field was named "Hoy Field" in honor of Dummy two years ago, said their granddaughter, Joan.
Anna was a teacher for Cincinnati Public Schools. She taught herself to speak in a modulated voice that she herself never heard. She taught her husband to speak well enough that they were able to do away with finger speech.
"When I spoke to him, I'd speak very plainly, and he could make out what I was saying," Joan said.
Anna and Dummy lived in various places, but Norwood was the place Joan remembered.
"The doorbell in their house was a great, big, wooden ball that would come down and really jar the floor, so they could feel the vibration," Joan remembered. "If you had your hearing, it not only jarred the floor, it jarred you."
According to the Web site www.dummyhoy.com, Hoy was born in Houcktown, Ohio, near Findlay, in May 1862. He lost his hearing at age 3, following an attack of spinal meningitis. In 1879, he graduated from high school - the School for the Deaf in Columbus - as its valedictorian. It was there Dummy learned to make shoes. Eddie Dundon, who was three years older than Hoy, graduated before him from the same school and also blazed a trail in baseball. He pitched in the major leagues in 1883 and 1884, five years before Hoy's arrival.
Dummy's mother didn't want him to leave Houcktown, where he had opened a small shoe shop, Joan said. But Dummy's mother couldn't hold him back forever, and ultimately he accepted an invitation to go to Wisconsin to play pro ball - at age 24.
The 1948 story about the Hoys said he left for Wisconsin "wearing a suit made for him by his mother and shoes he had made for himself." It also said "he had a terrible time making the Oshkosh manager understand he wanted a tryout as an outfielder."
And how's this for a testament to Hoy's speed: "To the Oshkosh manager and players, Dummy was a joke until he started flashing around center field."
SABR's Overfield said future major-league manager Frank Selee is the person who gave Hoy his first pro shot in Oshkosh.
Hoy's speed alone should have caught somebody's eye sooner: His 82 stolen bases as a 26-year-old major-league rookie in 1888 at Washington led the National League.
He moved around quite a bit during his 18-year pro career: Buffalo, St. Louis, back to Washington, Cincinnati (1894-97), Louisville, the Chicago White Sox, back to Cincinnati, and then he finished his pro career in the Pacific Coast League. He played in 211 games for Los Angeles at age 41 in 1903 and stole 46 bases. He married Anna during his career in 1898.
Sportswriter Thomas Longergan said: "He was the smartest player I have ever seen, swift as a panther and very fast at getting balls in from the outfield."
In 1902, Sam Crawford - the Reds' 24-year-old right fielder who went on to a Hall of Fame career in Detroit - was in his first season next to Hoy in the outfield and said in an oral history in the Glory of Their Times, that Hoy was a take-charge player.
Hoy couldn't talk, but he could make "kind of a throaty noise, kind of a little squawk," Crawford said.
"When a fly ball came out and I heard this little noise, I knew he was going to take it," Crawford said. "We never had any trouble about who was going to take the ball."
Hoy, who owned and operated a dairy farm in Mount Healthy for 20 years, lived to see the Reds win World Championships in 1919 and 1940 and National League pennants in 1939 and 1961.
He died five months shy of his 100th birthday.
Joan recalled her grandfather being "very strict and disciplined" as far as proper eating and exercise.
"He was very spry," Joan remembered. "Even in his 90s, he walked like a young man. Nobody would have ever guessed his age. He'd walk downtown from Mount Healthy just for something to do. That's about 20 miles round trip!"
Tonight, Dummy makes one last trip: to Valhalla.
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