In 1888, William Hoy became the first deaf outfielder to play major league baseball. Silent Star is an engaging account of the obstacles he encountered and the achievements he garnered in his career.
William “Dummy” Hoy was the first major league outfielder to throw out three players at home plate in one game. (Since his accomplishment in 1889, two other players have matched this feat.) When Hoy began playing in the minor leagues in 1886, he had a lousy .219 batting average. Dummy would turn to the umpire to read his lips for a strike or a ball allowing duplicitous pitchers to sneak in a pitch before he was ready. But then Dummy came up with an ingenious system of hand signals to be delivered by the third base coach, so he wouldn’t have to turn around. After that, Hoy was never caught off-guard and his batting average increased to .368 in his last minor league season. (Some historians attribute the origins of modern day baseball signals to Dummy.) Hoy’s prowess on the field earned him the moniker “the best fielding outfielder in the National League.” He was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds’ and the Ohio Baseball Halls of Fame as well as the American Association of the Deaf’s Hall of Fame. But though people from 1888 up to the present day have campaigned for him, William Dummy Hoy has yet to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
The energetic sportscasting and the artful sequencing of events is what makes Silent Star a great book. It opens during the historic game on July 19, 1889 just before Dummy throws out the third player at home plate. It ends with a face-off between two deaf players: Dummy at bat and Luther Taylor on the mound. Here’s a sampling of Bill Wise’s description of the July 19th play: The pitcher released the ball. The batter swung and blasted a scorching single toward Hoy. The base runner was off with the crack of the bat. Hoy, realizing there was going to be a play at home plate, charged the hard-hit ball. The lively play-by-play announcing appeals to young baseball fans (as well as their writing teachers.) But the evocation of life in the late 1880’s and of a small deaf boy’s experiences in a small town before he was discovered grab the attention of less sporty kids as well. And, of course, there’s the theme of aiming high and displaying the grit to turn the dream into a reality that teachers love to discover in a book.
Adam Gustavson’s historically accurate paintings are another compelling element of Silent Star. We see the small leather mitts and the zookeeper’s caps of 19th century baseball, and the mustachioed newspaper reporters write on steno-pads. Each scene is raked by late afternoon light, creating long shadows that evoke a sense of distance between Hoy’s time and ours.