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.
- Outfielder Tommy Leach, Hoy's teammate with Louisville in 1898 and 1899. Hoy lost his hearing and his speech as a child and, as was the custom of the period, was coined 'Dummy'
William Ellsworth "Dummy" Hoy played for seven teams in his 14-year Major League career from 1888-1902, with his best years in Cincinnati as a Red from 1894-97 and 1902. He became a deaf mute at age 3 from a meningitis attack. Unable to attend local schools, he enrolled at the Ohio State School for the Deaf and completed grade and high school in six years, graduating as class valedictorian.
He operated a small shoe repair shop in Houckstown, Ohio, until his weekend baseball play won him a contract with Oshkosh (Wisc.) in the Northwestern League, where his speed and outfield defense excited fans but his hitting was very weak, mostly because his was unable to hear the umpire when he called the pitch, and while he struggled to decipher the umpire's call, the pitcher was already throwing his next pitch.
During the offseason, Hoy asked his manager and third-base coach, Frank Selee, to signal the pitches -- one finger for a strike and two for a ball -- during the 1887 season and the now-concentrated Hoy hit above .300. The evidence is shaky, but some historians believe umpires began using hand signals for balls and strikes for Hoy's benefit.
Although only 5 feet 4 inches and 150 pounds, Hoy demonstrated great defensive skills, reportedly the first outfielder to play the position shallow. He possessed a powerful and accurate throwing arm and threw out three runners at home plate on June 19, 1888.
Hoy's greatest weapon was his speed. As a rookie, he led the National League in stolen bases (82) on his way to a career total of 594. In his Major League career, he scored 1,426 runs in 1,796 games with 1,004 bases on balls. Most of his 40 career home runs were inside the park. In 1896 with the Reds, he tied for the team's home-run lead with four. His career totals read: 1,796 games, 2,044 hits, 726 RBIs and a .287 batting average.
In 1902, Hoy batted against pitcher Luther "Dummy" Taylor of the New York Giants. When he came to the plate, he and Taylor "spoke" to each other briefly through signs. Hoy worked Taylor for a walk. In their era, "Dummy" was descriptive, never meant to be derogatory. Hoy was listed in newspaper accounts and record books as Bill, Billy, William and W.E. as well as Dummy.
After Hoy retired, he and his wife, a teacher of the deaf, lived on a farm near Cincinnati. The Reds did not forget him and often invited him to special occasions and old-timers games. In 1951, to commemorate the National League's 75th anniversary, he was photographed wearing his 1876 uniform with Reds fireballer Ewell "The Whip" Blackwell. Hoy's son, Carson, who at the time was prosecuting attorney for Hamilton County, was named temporary "manager" for the anniversary recreation.
A decade later, on Oct. 7, 1961, the 99-year old Hoy threw out the first ball before Game 6 of the World Series. He died the following December.
He was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 2003.