A journalist-turned-author brings back a baseball hero for the ages
By DAVID MARTINDALE
March 2, 2016
More than a century ago, William “Dummy” Hoy was one of the best and most popular players in baseball. Today, few people know his name.
Nancy Churnin hopes to change that by introducing Hoy to a new generation of fans.
Churnin, theater critic for The Dallas Morning News, is the author of The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game (Albert Whitman & Co., $16.99). It’s a children’s book, with pictures by Jez Tuya, that recaps the inspiring life and career of a deaf baseball player.
Hoy, one of only a handful of players to play in four major leagues (from 1888 to 1902), was a defensive wizard in center field and one of the game’s most aggressive base stealers. He’s also responsible for popularizing the familiar “safe” and “out” hand signals.
Here’s what Churnin has to say about the book and about her favorite player.
How did you find out about Hoy?
Several years ago, a high school in Garland produced a play called The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy. I was fascinated. I wrote a story about this interesting play about this baseball player who was deaf and who taught signals to the umpires so he could play, signals that we still use today.
I’ve written many, many stories, but this one elicited an email from a man named Steve Sandy from Ohio. He thanked me for writing about Hoy. I was curious why someone from Ohio would care about a high-school production in Garland.
As we continued our email correspondence, I found out that Steve is deaf and that William Hoy is a great hero to him. Eventually, I asked if Hoy’s story had ever been turned into a children’s book. He didn’t think it had, so I decided to give it a try.
Why did Hoy’s story appeal to you so much?
I was excited to write about a man who is a hero to the deaf community. But beyond that, it’s a story that anyone can relate to. His is a story of perseverance, of overcoming challenges, of turning challenges into an opportunity.
His accomplishments can serve as a great lesson to everyone: Don’t feel badly because you’re different. Think about how your difference can bring something fresh and new to other people and even make things better for everybody. In his case, the signs that he helped introduce made it a better game.
Hoy has many supporters who believe he should be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Are you convinced that he belongs?
Hoy is already in several halls of fame, including the Cincinnati Reds hall of fame. But he isn’t in Cooperstown. When you combine his statistics from all four leagues he played in, they are incredibly strong.
He led the National League in stolen bases in his rookie year. He was the first outfielder ever to throw out three base runners at the plate in one game. He was the king of center field. No matter where they would hit it, he could get to it. He was fast and he was determined. And he was a team leader.
Then, on top of that, considering the impact that he had on the game, he definitely belongs.
We’re putting you on the spot with this question (because we are in Texas Rangers country), but do you have a favorite baseball team and a favorite player?
I grew up in New York. Some in my family rooted for the Yankees, some for the Mets. So I like them both. But I’ve been going to Texas Rangers games for years and I love them.
As for my favorite player, I have to say it’s William Hoy. He inspires me. I took a number of years to work on this book and I got a number of rejections for early versions. But I felt I could never give up because Hoy never gave up.
I felt I wasn’t just doing this for myself. I was doing this for all the kids: deaf kids and hearing kids and anyone who has a dream. And I often felt like Hoy was on my shoulder saying, “Don’t give up.”
Plan your life
Nancy Churnin will read from and sign The William Hoy Story at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 5. at Barnes & Noble, 7700 W. Northwest Highway, Dallas.