Sign Language History Heroes: William Hoy

Sign Language History Heroes: William Hoy

Left deaf and mute after contracting meningitis at age 3, William Ellsworth Hoy (1862-1961) could have spent his life dependent on others. Instead, he became a successful entrepreneur and major league baseball player.

Hoy’s unstoppable determination transcended the limitations of his time and inspired fans across the country.  

The late 1800s wasn’t exactly an empowering time for deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans. But William Hoy didn’t let anything stop him. He graduated from the Ohio School for the Deaf in 1879 and opened his own shoe shop.

It wasn’t long before a traveling baseball scout noticed his talent and asked him to join a semi-pro team. Hoy closed up his shoe shop and began his major league career in 1888 as an outfielder for the Washington Senators.

Despite his small stature (5’ 6”), Hoy racked up impressive statistics. He was a left-handed batter and right-handed thrower with enviable speed. His career statistics include:

Played in 1,797 games with a career batting average of .288  
2,048 hits
1,429 runs
40 home runs
725 runs batted in
596 stolen bases

Tommy Leach, Hoy's roommate in 1899, said, " He was a real fine ballplayer. When you played with him in the outfield, the thing was that you never called for a ball. You listened for him and if he made this little squeaky sound, that meant he was going to take it." Leach went on to say, "We hardly ever had to use our fingers to talk, though most of the fellows did learn the sign language, so that when we got confused or something we could straighten it out with our hands."

On May 26, 1902, Hoy stepped up to the plate against Luther Haden Taylor, a deaf athlete pitching for the New York Giants. As the story goes, Hoy greeted Taylor by hand signing, "I'm glad to see you!” He then cracked a single to center on Taylor’s first pitch.   

In 1951 Hoy became the first deaf athlete elected into the American Athletic Association of the Deaf Hall of Fame. Hoy Field at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, is named after him. 

In 1961 Hoy (then aged 99) threw out the ceremonial first pitch before game three of the World Series between the Reds and the Yankees in Cincinnati. He died on December 15, 1961.