Reds underdog gets his due
Film documents unlikely success of Dummy Hoy
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
It's a good bet that fans of the Cincinnati Reds know who Dummy Hoy is. And if David Risotto gets his wish, fans in Cooperstown, N.Y., soon will, too.
Born William Ellsworth Hoy in 1862, the man from Houcktown, Ohio, became a baseball star against all odds.
Not only did he play 14 big-league seasons and amass over 2,000 hits and 1,400 runs, plus 594 stolen bases, a .287 lifetime batting average and a career on-base percentage of .386, but he hit the first grand slam in the American League. He's also credited with introducing the hand signals that you can see every day in Major League parks across America.
And now he has been immortalized on film in writer and director Risotto's documentary, "Dummy Hoy: A Deaf Hero," which the filmmaker hopes will eventually help Hoy get inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The movie has been a long time coming for Risotto, who got the idea about 10 years ago when a deaf friend approached him with the story.
"He wasn't only deaf, he was short," Risotto says. "He was only 5-foot-4 or 5-foot-5. And people didn't want to give him the chance, but he persevered. He kept going to tryouts and eventually he made it."
Risotto says Columbus, Ohio-based researcher Steve Sandy, who was instrumental in getting Hoy inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame -- Hoy played for the Reds from 1894-1897 and in 1902 -- came in with years of research on Hoy, making the project a fascinating discovery.
"He played outfield, but he couldn't react to fly balls by the crack of the bat," Risotto says. "He had to go by body language, and he turned into an excellent outfielder. He played center field, and in one game he threw out three runners."
Still, it was a tough go for a deaf player in the late 1800s.
"A lot of people made fun of him," Risotto says. "But he was determined to improve as a player, and that's what got him in the Major Leagues. He just worked harder than everyone else.
"To overcome deafness and be accepted in the hearing community in the 1800s was a big thing back then. Deaf people were looked down upon. Still today, deaf people are not looked upon very favorably. If you're blind or in a wheelchair, you get special aid. There's not a lot of aid for deaf people today."
Risotto says he hopes this film raises awareness not only of Hoy's accomplishments but of the struggle deaf people go through every day.
"It's an underdog story, like a Rocky Balboa," Risotto says. "Everybody thinks he's a loser and he shows them he's not. Back in the day deaf people were considered 'deaf and dumb.' They were laughed at. Nobody wanted anything to do with people like that. It was a struggle for him to overcome, but he did it."
And now Risotto has done it, making a movie that shows the world about Hoy.
He says the Reds have been "100 percent behind the efforts of him getting into the National Baseball Hall of Fame," and the DVD is for sale in the Cincinnati Hall of Fame museum. He also intends to turn the story into a feature film.
Meanwhile, the DVD's re-enactment scenes feature actors Ryan Lane, who played Dummy Hoy, and Deanne Bray, who played Hoy's wife. Bray is known from a series on Cox-TV called "Sue Thomas, F.B. Eye."
Lane was so good that the director of the popular network show "Cold Case" hired him for an episode after seeing him in the Hoy film.
Risotto says being a huge baseball fan -- he was born in New York and roots for the Yankees -- made the Hoy project a labor of love. Now he hopes fans respond and send letters to the Hall of Fame to push for Hoy's induction.
While talking about Hoy, Risotto says he's often reminded of a special moment at the end of the pioneer's life.
"It was 1961, and Dummy Hoy, 99 years old, threw out the ceremonial first pitch of Game 3 of the World Series between the Reds and the Yankees. He was the oldest living Major League Baseball player at the time. One of his dreams was to live to 100, but he came up a little short. He passed away that December."
Maybe Risotto's film will help Hoy and his fans pursue a Hall of Fame dream and not come up short.