24 June 2012

Major League Deafies: The Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing in Baseball

Deaf MLB outfielder William Hoy is said
to be the first person in the majors ever
to hit a grand slam.
Baseball season is in full swing, and, with a few recent news stories featuring deaf and hard-of-hearing high school and college players looking toward the majors, we thought we'd take a look back at some of the other deaf professional athletes through the years.  It's somewhat widely known that the quarterback of the 1894 Gallaudet football team was responsible for the invention of the huddle, but deaf players are also credited for the hand signals used by umpires today that signify whether a pitch was a ball or strike, whether a runner is safe or out, as well as the signals used between pitchers and catchers used to decide what type of ball to throw. Here are some deaf players who made the big leagues:

Edward Dundon was a player in the 1800s who played for the Columbus Buckeyes in the American Association, at the time considered the Major Leagues. Dundon pitched, played first base and sometimes played in the outfield as well.  He is reported to have introduced the hand signals into baseball.

William Hoy is by far the most famous deaf baseball player. He attended Deaf school in Ohio with Dundon and joined the major leagues a few years after him. In his first year, Hoy led the league in stolen bases with 82 steals, stealing about 600 in his career, which remains a top twenty record today. Most sources also agree that he was the first person in the majors to hit a grand slam.  Hoy was an outfielder and had over 2,000 hits in his career, with a lifetime average of around .290.

Luther Taylor pitched nine seasons in the major leagues, having earned many wins for the New York Giants, with his best season in 1904 at 21 and 15. In 1902 Taylor pitched for the Giants against the Reds where he came up against William Hoy, the only time in MLB history when two deaf players faced off; the Giants won 5-3. Taylor went on to coach at the Illinois School for the Deaf, where he coached Richard Sipek.

Richard Sipek had a brief career in the major leagues, playing outfield for Cincinnati in 1945.

Curtis Pride made the big leagues at age 17, and played as an outfielder and designated hitter for six teams over his career.  He also played 23 seasons in the minor leagues, and now coaches baseball at Gallaudet.

Other deaf Major Leaguers with brief MLB careers include George Leitner, Billy Deegan, Thomas Lynch, Reuben Stephenson, and Herbert Murphy. Currently, pitcher Ryan Ketchner is playing in the Triple A minors, and has been close to the Majors a few times.

Other young deaf players to watch for are Nick Hamilton*, the designated hitter at Kent State, and Austin Solecitto*, a high school pitcher whose 90 mph fastball has peaked the interest of college and MLB recruiters alike.

For more on deaf people in other professional sports, including NFL's Kenny Walker, and strongwoman Shelley Beattie, who once held the bench-pressing record of 315 pounds(!), click here.

*Unfortunately the videos on these sites aren't captioned. Fight for your right to captioned news media by writing to your local politicians, and on Twitter using the hashtag #CaptionTHIS!


  1. To add to your list, I am also of the understanding that it's deaf players were also the reason for the development of signs giving to the runners and batter from the third-base coach in regards to stealing, bunting, hit & run, etc.

    It's such a prevalent part of baseball now that even in little league they are used. Pretty neat actually. Furthermore, I would say that no other sport uses such an extensive array of hand-signals in a game than baseball.

    1. Some Dude :-p
      Interesting; I didn't realize that they hadn't always been using hand signals in little league. And as far as I know baseball far exceeds other sports in hand signal use, particularly the catchers and pitchers; those guys really go at it!

  2. William Hoy is the only deaf baseball player I am familiar with and I thought he was the person that introduced hand signals or am I incorrect? I am from Wisconsin so I found out an interesting fact about Hoy. He tried out for the team in Wisconsin at that time and was rejected. It would have been awesome if one of the first deaf baseball players would have played for Wisconsin.

    1. Crjosh-
      It's under some debate who actually introduced hand signals into the game; for a long time Hoy was credited, but now most historians agree that Dundon, being first in the league, started the idea. However, once Hoy entered the majors (a few years after Dundon), it's conceivable that he had some impact on the breadth and kind of signals used. Interesting about Wisconsin; lucky thing he didn't give up!
      Thanks for reading!


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