The deaf community just like any other diverse community has produced some great deaf athletes across all areas of sport. Baseball is no exception and has seen several deaf baseball players rise to the ranks of the Major Leagues. These pioneering deaf baseball players left an indelible mark on the game and were responsible for many significant changes to the game that are still with us today. The presence of deaf athletes in professional baseball continues to this day and these deaf baseball players are great role models for a young generation of deaf or hearing-impaired aspiring athletes.
Though not a fantastic player, Ed Dundon still holds the title of first deaf professional baseball player. He spent two years with the Columbus Buckeyes of the American Association which at the time was considered a Major League. Ed pitched and also played first base and the outfield. Forgotten by many today and always living in the shadow of William Hoy, Dundon might have been the first person to introduce hand signals to baseball. He is reported by the Sporting News to have used hand signals to call balls and strikes and also signal safe or out as early as 1886. Dundon died at the very young age of 34 and is buried in his hometown of Columbus.
Another unfortunate deaf athlete saddled with the "Dummy" nickname, Hoy remains the greatest and most famous deaf baseball player and possibly the most famous deaf athlete period. He attended the same Deaf School in Ohio as Dundon and probably played on the same school team. His professional career started as a fluke when Hoy was observed playing neighborhood sandlot ball and was encouraged enough to tryout for some area minor league teams.
Success brought Hoy to the Major League level in 1888 a few short years after Dundon. In his rookie season, Hoy stole a whopping 82 bases to lead the league. He would steal nearly 600 in his career! For the next 14 years, Hoy would play for six different teams and four different leagues. This traveling outfielder had a solid career and was regarded by teammates as one of the smartest men in the game. He finished with over 2000 hits and a very respectable .288 lifetime average. His 596 stolen bases is still places him among the Top 20 Career Leaders some 100+ years after his career. Hoy was the first person voted into the American Athletic Association of the Deaf Hall of Fame. There has been several campaigns supporting Hoy for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, but so far the Veteran's Committee has not seen fit to elect him. Hoy is often credited with creating the use of hand signals to signal balls and strikes, but there are numerous arguments for Dundon and also legendary umpire Bill Klem. The truth may never be known. It is definite that Hoy was the person most responsible for paving the way for other deaf athletes seeking to enter professional baseball.
He still inspires today. Deaf Life has run a cover story on him. There have been books and documentaries and entire blogs and websites dedicated to this great baseball ambassador and the legacy he left behind!
In 9 seasons in the big leagues, most of it spent with John McGraw's New York Giants, Taylor distinguished himself as the greatest deaf pitcher of all-time. A teammate of the legendary Christy Mathewson, Taylor was instrumental in hurling wins for many of the pennant winning teams in the Giant early days. His best season was easily 1904, when he went 21-15 and would have pitched in the Series that year, but it was canceled. After his Major League career ended, Taylor pitched several more years in the minors and later coached at Kansas School for the Deaf before settling in long-term at Illinois School for the Deaf where he would coach future deaf major leaguer Richard Sipek!
Sipek had a brief one season career for Cincinnati in 1945 where he played outfield. Dick did not accomplish much at the plate and his career was probably helped by the absence of many baseball players who were still supporting the war effort. Sipek has a real claim to fame, though. He became the first deaf baseball player in the Major Leagues to not be stuck with the "Dummy" nickname!
The deaf community would have to wait a long time to find a player with the staying ability of the turn-of-the-century great deaf athletes like Hoy and Taylor. Curtis Pride had the courage, ability and dedication to stick it out for over a decade as a part-time position player constantly shuffling between the major and minor leagues. Curtis started pro ball at the tender age of 17! As a major league outfielder and designated hitter, Pride saw duty with a half-dozen squads before his career ended. His minor league career continued and he would play an incredible 23 seasons, last suiting up for an independent team in 2008 at the age of 39. He currently coaches at Gallaudet University. Curtis remains a great ambassador to both baseball and the deaf community. His dedication and ability to spend 20 plus years as a baseball player speaks volumes!
There have been other deaf baseball players with very short careers. During Taylor's career pitching for the Giants he had two deaf teammates: George Leitner and Billy Deegan. Others include Thomas Lynch, Reuben Stephenson and Herbert Murphy. Looking toward the future of potential Major League deaf baseball players might lead to Ryan Ketchner who has been close a number of times. This strong pitcher is at the Triple A level and may see a big league call up any day. If Ketchner is successful, he can thank the other great deaf athletes who came before him.