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Did you ever wonder what caused an umpire to first signal a called strike by raising his right hand? Watching umpires it's almost as if they think the players are deaf. Or maybe the hand signals for balls and strikes have always been for the benefit of the fans who can't hear the call from so far away.

Actually an umpire did first signal balls and strikes with his hand for a deaf baseball player who was one of the best major league players of his era, William "Dummy" Hoy. Before he suggested the signals to an umpire in 1887, Hoy had to read the lips of the umpire to know if each pitch was a strike or ball. The pitchers on the other teams often took advantage of the situation to throw the next pitch before he was ready.

Born a deaf mute during the Civil War in Houcktown, Ohio, Hoy isn't in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He wasn't even inducted into the Hancock County (a county in Northwestern Ohio, about 40 miles south of Toledo) Sports Hall of Fame until 12 years ago. Regardless, he not only was one of the best players of his time but holds records that have never been broken.

It wasn't always easy for Hoy. Two playwrights, Allen Meyer and Michael Nowak wrote, "The Single Season of Dummy Hoy," a comedy about his first year as a major league baseball player. The play debuted in 1987 in New York and Chicago and was about Hoy's first year as a player, 1886.

Although that was far from his best season, and he batted only .217, the play did show the difficulty of the deaf man in being accepted by his teammates. The play did show the triumph of the human spirit, however, because by the end of the year he was voted the team's most popular player.

"It's stil mind boggling to me that he was able to find his way onto a baseball team, command the respect of the players and become the most popular player on the team," Meyer said in an interview in the Findlay Courier newspaper.

Both playwrights said the play was "not about baseball" but about the triumph of the human spirit.

" I was amazed the umpire signals were created because of this man's deafness...Sign language is connected to everybody," Meyer said. We do understand sign language, even if it's just balls and strikes."

The play may have not been primarily about the sport, but Hoy was no slouch as a player. In 15 seasons with St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Chicago and Buffalo, Hoy batted more than .300 3 times, with a high of .318. His career average was a respectable .291.

He also stole 605 bases for his career, with a National League high 82 in 1888. He garnered more than 2,000 hits during his 1,784 games. He also threw three runners out at home plate in one game for the Washington Senators in 1889, a record that stands to this day. He led the majors in fielding one season and threw out a mjor league high 45 runners in 1900.

In 1898 he was the leadoff batter for the Chicago White Sox in the first American League game.

William Hoy may never be in Cooperstown, but he will be remembered in the town he lived in most of his life, Findlay, Ohio. A plaque honoring him is in the Hancock County Sports Hall of Fame in the Findlay Village Mall.