By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
It may have been fate that prompted Nancy Churnin, theater critic for the Dallas Morning News, to review a high school production about William “Dummy” Hoy, a deaf baseball player from Houcktown who many believe introduced hand signals to baseball in the late 19th century.
“I don’t normally cover high school productions, but for some reason, I did this one,” she said in a telephone interview from Dallas, Texas, where she makes her home.
After the review was published, she was contacted by Steve Sandy of Ohio, a friend of the Hoy family. Sandy is also deaf and has worked for several decades to get Hoy inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
The more Churnin communicated via email with Sandy, the more she wanted to learn about Hoy. That interest eventually turned into a children’s picture book that was released in March titled
“The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game” (Albert Whitman & Co., $16.99).
Churnin will attend this week’s Funday Sunday Extra event at the Mazza Museum, located in the Virginia B. Gardner Fine Arts Pavilion at the University of Findlay. A presentation for families, from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., will include baseball-themed stations, sign language lessons and a book signing. At 4 p.m., Churnin will talk about her book. Her talk is presented in collaboration with the Hancock Historical Museum.
“Every minute I put into this book, it was an honor,” Churnin said. “I’m an advocate for William Hoy. It’s all about him.”
Churnin’s 13-year journey started in 2003 when the Garland High School Night Owl Players presented “The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy.” After reviewing the play, she heard from Sandy, who sees Hoy as an inspiration.
Born in Houcktown in 1862, Hoy became deaf after suffering from meningitis when he was 3. He went on to graduate as the valedictorian from the Ohio State School for the Deaf in Columbus.
Hoy worked as a shoe repairman before signing on with a minor league team in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Churnin said he struggled because he was deaf, but then asked the umpire to use hand signs for balls and strikes, and safe and out calls. Hoy, who played centerfield, was eventually called up by the Washington Nationals in 1888. At the time, he was the fifth player who was deaf. He embraced the nickname “Dummy,” which was used in that time to describe someone who couldn’t speak.
Throughout his career, Hoy played for seven major league teams, including twice with the Cincinnati Reds. He retired from the Reds in July 1902 with a lifetime batting average of .288, along with 2,044 hits, 725 RBIs and 607 stolen bases.
After retiring, he and his wife, Anna, who was also deaf, lived in Mount Healthy near Cincinnati and raised three children. He later worked for Goodyear.
His last official appearance in a stadium was in October 1961 when he threw out the first pitch in the third game of the World Series between the Yankees and Reds. Hoy died two months later.
His ashes were scattered in Lytle Park in Cincinnati.
He was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 2003.
Churnin said she was impressed by Hoy’s contribution to the game and decided she wanted to write a book about him for children.
“I did this because it felt like it was the right thing to do,” she said.
But the process was a lengthy one, she said, due to the research involved. Churnin said she also had to learn how to write for children.
“It took a lot of research. I really had to understand how to write a children’s book. I had to learn the craft,” she said.
That included attending classes and workshops.
She also got help from Sandy, who answered questions and provided family photos and newspaper articles.
“Steve Sandy was involved every step of the way,” she said. “He even had letters William wrote to his mother.”
Churnin said Hoy’s descendants still live in Ohio.
“They are all so proud of William Hoy,” she said. “And all the things I’ve read, I have yet to find any bad stuff. I’m so honored to have written this book.”
Jez Tuya illustrated the book.
“He worked from actual photographs and made them ‘children-friendly,'” she said.
She noted that players in the illustrations aren’t wearing gloves, which was the norm for the time period. She said the umpires are also shown dressed in business suits.
“They would come on their lunch hour,” she explained. “So they’d be wearing their business clothes.”
Churnin said she was privileged to attend opening day for the Cincinnati Reds this year and present the book.
She is now working with Sandy to get Hoy inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. She has presented the book at schools and collected nearly 800 letters and drawings from children in Texas. The items will be donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, said Churnin, who hopes there will be more letters to come.
Hoy will next be eligible for a vote by the hall of fame committee in 2018, she said.
“This was Steve Sandy’s dream, but now it’s my dream, too,” she said.
Churnin is working on several other children’s books, including “Manjhi Moves a Mountain” and “Making His Shot, How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf,” which will be released in 2017, and “The Princess and The Tree,” scheduled for publication in 2018.
A display case featuring a replica of Hoy’s baseball card, a scrapbook compiled by Houcktown residents, photographs, two books about Hoy and a proclamation signed in honor of William “Dummy” Hoy Day observed May 23 can be seen at the Hancock Historical Museum, in conjunction with an exhibit titled “America’s Favorite Pastime: Baseball in Hancock County.”
The museum is located at 422 W. Sandusky St.
Send an E-mail to Jeannie Wolf