The Men Who Pioneered Hand Signals in Baseball

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It’s not often that we can credit someone for having completely changed a sport, but Dummy Hoy might be an exception.  The talented CF played for several teams during his career, but he is remembered not only for having been very talented, but because he is regarded as the best deaf baseball player in history.  Not only that, but it’s strongly argued that as a direct result of Dummy Hoy that we see emphatic gestures from umpires to signal balls/strikes and safe or out calls, and from base coaches to signal plays. Can you imagine the game now without them?

Dummy wasn’t born “Dummy” Hoy. Born William Ellsworth Hoy, he was given the name “Dummy” as it was a word used to describe someone who couldn’t speak.

Dummy was a talented CF who played for several teams through his career the spanned the latter part of the 1880s through 1902, just as the National and American Leagues were coming together.  He was baseball’s third deaf player, but the first non-pitcher. At a short 5’4, he was an imposing target as pitchers had difficulty finding the strike zone.  Dummy was a fantastic center fielder with a great arm, and as a result broke many records. He holds the record (which has been tied) for throwing out three players at the plate, with the legendary catcher Connie Mack on the receiving end.

While many accredit Hoy with having pioneered hand signals, he’s not the only one we must credit.

Ed Dundon goes down as the first deaf baseball player in history.  It is widely speculated that while umpiring a game in 1886 he began using hand signals to communicate.  The only reference to the event was The Sporting News, which of course is still around today.  It is unclear as to the extent of the hand signals, and whether or not he, or anyone else, continued to use them regularly.

Charles Rigler (AKA “Cy”) was an umpire in the National League from 1906 through 1935. He worked more than 4000 games, and his almost 2500 behind the plate is the third most in baseball history.  Cy Rigler is credited for having invented hand signals for balls, strikes and outs at the plate in the early 1900s while working the minor league circuit as a way for outfielders to see the calls more clearly.

While Rigler was still in the minors using the gestures, MLB umpire Bill Klem began using them in the National League.  On a side note, it’s interesting to note that Rigler was one of the men responsible for using chest protectors and having a policy introduced for umpires in the NL.

 

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