Disability Studies Quarterly
Spring 2005, Volume 25, No. 2
Copyright 2005 by the Society
for Disability Studies

Unmanly Professional Athletes: Disability and Masculinity in the United States, 1888-1908

Robert E. Bionaz
Chicago State University
9501 S. Kings Dr., Chicago, IL, 60805
E-mail: rbionaz@csu.edu

Writing in 1893, United States Civil Service Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt warned that "in a perfectly peaceful and commercial civilization such as ours there is always a danger of laying too little stress upon the more virile virtues . . . which are fostered by vigorous, manly, out-of-door sports." Roosevelt explained that "the true sports for a manly race are sports like running, rowing, playing football and baseball, boxing and wrestling, shooting, riding, and mountain climbing" (Roosevelt, 1893). Roosevelt's obsession with masculine pursuits reflected his belief in the importance of "manly" behavior and in the presence of an aggressive masculine discourse in the culture, politics and foreign policy of the United States around the turn of the century.

As the country's only organized turn-of-the-century professional sport, baseball occupied a unique place in American society. Firmly embedded in the masculine world imagined by Theodore Roosevelt, baseball represented an appropriate sport for virile men. Although there were various aborted attempts to form professional sports leagues in hockey, basketball and football before and after 1900, only baseball, with the National League beginning in 1876, and the American in 1901, operated consistently as a "major" professional league. Ultimately, the three other "major" sports began after this time period: the National Hockey League in 1917, the National Football League in 1920, and the National Basketball Association in 1946 (McFarlane, 1976; Bennett & Johnston, 1976; Shouler, Ryan,Smith, Koppett & Bellotti, 2003). It was baseball that enjoyed national following and national press coverage as early as the late 19th century.

However, within baseball at the turn of the century, a cultural tension existed because, for two decades, at least one Deaf player performed at the major league level. In an era marked by the controversy over oralism and sign language, Deaf players William Ellsworth Hoy and Luther Taylor both communicated through sign language, marking them as members of the "unique national community with its own visual language," as described by Robert M. Buchanan (1999). In a sport increasingly defined by masculine representations, the presence of Hoy and Taylor created a dilemma: how could the play of these culturally Deaf men, ostensibly less masculine to "normal" observers because of their disability, be reconciled with an image of baseball as a "manly" pursuit? If these two players were not, in fact, less manly than other players, then the masculine narrative, important to the United States' development as a world power (and so prized by public figures like Theodore Roosevelt), could be partially undermined, providing possible openings for other critiques of American culture by immigrant workers or even women.

To resolve this contradiction, disability must trump athleticism, even in the hyper-masculinized world of major league baseball, where players were held up as exemplars of manly virtues. Surprisingly, even the most talented, accomplished player, if he happened to be Deaf, could be treated by the established news media as childlike, or a figure of fun. Unlike the Deaf community, which admired the success and "manly" attributes of both men, sportswriters covering baseball for mainstream publications maintained the narrative of "normal" men as masculine and disabled men as not masculine by resorting to humor—often apparently endearing—or ridicule. Both players were nicknamed "Dummy," for example, in order to portray each of them as something short of masculine, as cute curiosities. Representations of cuteness and its links to children became prevalent in late-nineteenth-century America. According to Lori Merish, cuteness "is generically associated with the child," and, "always to some extent aestheticizes powerlessness" (Merish, 1996). Rosemarie Garland Thomson argues "non-normal" representation of disability "feminizes all disabled figures" (Thomson, 1997). Hoy and Taylor were depicted in this way, emphasizing the separation between disabled and non-disabled men, and placing both players squarely in the disabled camp.

Such labeling emphasized the players as distinctly different from their non-disabled, more masculine counterparts although the Deaf community viewed Hoy and Taylor very differently. Both men were seen as "heroes who were both Deaf and All-American." Their athleticism, in the words of Susan Burch, "embodied specific (male) virtues of the community: strength, perseverance, ability, and courage" (Burch, 2002, pp. 80-83). To the Deaf community, Hoy and Taylor appeared "normal" and Deaf Americans even embraced the usually pejorative term "Dummy."

As an example of the burgeoning discourse of masculinity that offered a way for turn-of-the-century men to valorize activities that combated the perceived growing feminization of American culture, Roosevelt's rhetorical linkage of sports with manliness likely resonated with many American men (Buchanan, 1999; Burch, 2002), hearing and Deaf, who were, in the words of Michael Kimmel, experiencing "a crisis of masculinity" (Kimmel, 1987, p. 262). (Gail Bederman agrees that turn-of-the-century men were obsessed with manhood, but she sees no "crisis," arguing that "no evidence [exists] that most turn-of-the-century men ever lost confidence in the belief that people with male bodies naturally possessed both a man's identity and a man's right to wield power" [Bederman, 1995, p.11].) Believing themselves threatened by the growth of feminism, and by the robust masculinity of working-class immigrants, turn-of-the-century middle-class men addressed this "crisis" by creating new cultural forms of masculinity or by reinscribing existing forms with new meaning. These forms included fraternal orders, organizations like the Boy Scouts and YMCA, and team and individual sports. While participation in these activities signified inclusion in the masculine world, during the 1890s, men also developed a rhetoric that defined the limits of masculinity, using epithets such as "sissy" and "stuffed shirt" to describe "overcivilized and effeminate" types, and "cold feet" and "pussy foot" to describe timid, non-masculine behavior (Bederman, 1995, p. 17). Also excluded from the masculine world were non-whites, and "defectives:" homosexuals with their "aberrant and deficient" male identities, and the disabled, whose bodies simply did not correspond to the "healthy, muscular, and powerful," new ideal (Thomson, 1997, pp. 5-9). According to Michael Kimmel, professional baseball occupied a prominent place in this attempt to "reconstitute American masculinity" (Kimmel, 1987, p. 262). The Deaf community shared this passion for associations, sport, and athletic masculinity (Burch, 2002, pp. 75-83; Bederman, 1995, pp. 16-17; Thomson, 1997, pp. 5-9, 19-51).

Baseball at the turn-of-the-century functioned as a symbol of American masculine culture, capitalism, and democracy: the players and almost all the fans were white males; the contests featured the type of manly competitiveness tempered with ideals of fair play so cherished by many turn-of-the-century men; the sport offered the opportunity for any player to rise to the top—for a game, a season, or a career—by making the effort to succeed; both a player's position on a team and his remuneration depended upon consistent production; finally, rooting for a particular team united fans across class and ethnic lines, exemplifying the promise of American democracy and cultural assimilation (Kimmel, 1989, pp. 293-295).

During the period that baseball came to represent all that was good about robust American masculinity, two Deaf players enjoyed considerable success on the field. William Ellsworth "Dummy" Hoy played the outfield for a variety of teams during a fifteen-year career from 1888 to 1902, and Luther Haden "Dummy" Taylor pitched effectively for the New York Giants and Cleveland Indians between 1900 and 1908. During their respective careers, the success enjoyed by both men created a tension between social constructions of masculinity and the achievements of two players whose "defective" bodies ostensibly barred them from membership in the masculine world. Contemporary representations of Hoy and Taylor resolved this tension by placing them on the margins of the male fraternity. They were described by a variety of terms that indicated they were not "real" men. These descriptions increased in volume and stridency as turn-of-the-century masculine discourse permeated the culture and became a staple of both news and sports rhetoric.

Hoy debuted on April 20 1888, and immediately drew praise for his play. On May 11, the Washington Post reported that "a pitcher and catcher and Mr. Hoy now constitute the Washington Baseball Club. The other six men who accompany them are put in the field for the purpose of making errors" ("Notes," 11 May 1888, p. 2). Again on May 15, the paper described Hoy's performance glowingly, calling him a good hitter and a "fine outfielder" ("Notes," 15 May 1888, p. 2). On May 17, the Post upgraded Hoy's play to "superb" and pronounced him superior to the player he had replaced. While praising his ability, the Post wove in references to Hoy's deafness, thus setting him apart from the able-bodied players ("Notes," 17 May 1888, p. 2). On May 13, the Post reprinted an excerpt from the Boston Herald that described base coach John Irwin's signs to Hoy as "an amusing feature of a game. He makes many signs, gesticulating vigorously and keeping his fingers going like a spider's legs in full motion" (quoted in "Notes," 13 May 1888, p. 2). In case its readers failed to grasp the significance of Irwin's signals and sign language, five days later the Post printed the Detroit Free Press' description of "Hoy the center fielder . . . a deaf mute" (quoted in "Notes," 18 May 1888, p. 2). Thus, less than a month into the season, the Post had emphasized Hoy's deafness and had begun to qualify its discussions of his prowess as a baseball player by continual references to his disability.

This double-sided message became clearer as the season progressed. The Post and other papers found plenty to admire in Hoy's play, but defined him publicly as much by his deafness as by his skill on the field. On May 31, the Brooklyn Standard-Union called Hoy "a first-class man . . . He can't make any noise but he works" (quoted in "Notes," 31 May 1888, p. 2). On July 4, the Post claimed that Washington manager Timothy Sullivan joked to players on the New York team that "I don't know what to do with that man Hoy. He won't listen to anything I say to him" ("Notes," 4 July 1888, p. 2). Hoy again played in the National League with Washington in 1889, then joined Buffalo of the Player's League in 1890. Following a year with St. Louis in the American Association, he rejoined Washington for the 1892 and 1893 seasons.

By 1894 the Cincinnati club purchased Hoy's contract and he began a four-season stint with the Ohio team. The Cincinnati Enquirer's accounts celebrated baseball's rugged masculinity and marveled at the size of the men playing the game, calling the Reds' opening day win over the Chicago Colts as a "feast of manly sport," and describing the Colts as a team "big enough to scare victory out of another team," including several "strapping big men" ("Opened," Cincinnati Enquirer, 21 April 1894, p. 2). The paper noted approvingly that, based on appearance, the team should "be a winner. They are certainly good lookers" ("Opened," 21 April 1894, p. 2). Later in the season, the Enquirer claimed that successful pitching required a "manly demeanor" ("Baseball Gossip," Cincinnati Enquirer, 31 May 1894, p. 2). During the season, the Enquirer used a variety of martial and masculine metaphors to describe Reds' games. They were "hard fought," "glorious sport," "struggles," in which the Reds "fought the harder," instead of surrendering to the desire to "lay down," thus proving that the Cincinnati team possessed no "yellow streak." Losing teams were "walloped," "badly broken up," or "slaughtered," not simply defeated in an athletic contest ("Superb," Cincinnati Enquirer, 25 April 1894, p. 2; "Badly Broken Up," Cincinnati Enquirer, 13 June 1894, p. 2; "Slaughtered Boston," Cincinnati Enquirer, 29 April 1894, p. 2). Such rhetoric continued all season.

In counterpoint to this deluge of masculinity stood "Dummy" Hoy. Profiled before the season as "the mute player," Hoy simply failed to meet masculine standards. The sports page continually referred to his deafness as well as his diminutive stature. On April 25, the Enquirer described one of Hoy's outstanding fielding plays as "one of the most sensational double plays ever seen at this park" ("Superb," 25 April 1894, p. 2). The 5'4" outfielder apparently took a potential home run away from a Cleveland hitter and turned the play into a spectacular double play. The Enquirer's account reads: "Little Hoy, the mute, figured as the star of the play . . . when [Chippy] McGarr sent a terrific liner that looked like it was ticketed for the fence . . . He didn't think of little Hoy, the mute" ("Superb," 25 April 1894, p. 2). (Writers often noted Hoy's small frame, not surprising in a period where colorful nicknames like "Wee Willie" or "Pee Wee" identified 5' 4" Hall-of-Famer William Keeler and 5' 6" Arnold Hauser, and "Big Ed" meant 6' 1" Ed Delahanty or 6' 1" Ed Walsh to turn-of-the-century fans [Neft and Cohen, 1997].) On May 15, the paper reported that "Little Hoy's" sister had died and that the player had performed despite his anguish. Even in this account, the writer seemed to question Hoy's manhood as he pointed out that the player had to be persuaded by the Reds' manager to play in the game after hearing of his sister's death because his absence "would leave the team in a bad way." He "reluctantly granted the request, but his heart was not in his work, and several times during the game he choked up with emotion and tears ran down his cheeks" ("Baseball Gossip," Cincinnati Enquirer, 15 May 1894, p. 2). As the season drew to a close, the Enquirer concluded that "Hoy won't do. He isn't fast enough for the big league," a surprising assertion considering Hoy's average of fifty stolen bases and 107 runs per season between 1888 and 1894 ("Baseball Gossip," Cincinnati Enquirer, 16 September 1894, p. 2). The absurdity of this statement should have been apparent to contemporary students of the game. A century after his retirement, Hoy still ranks fifteenth on the all-time list of base stealers. The pre-1900 era featured the stolen base as a vital offensive weapon: fourteen of the top thirty base stealers in major league history performed before the turn-of-the century. Among his pre-1900 peers, Hoy ranks fifth in stolen bases, and he ranks twelfth in runs-per-game (Thorn and Palmer, 1991; Neft, Cohen and M. Neft, 1999). Still, it seemed that no matter how impressive Hoy's statistics, the Enquirer found ways to denigrate his performance, his dedication, and his manliness.

By 1900, the masculine idiom dominated American culture, appearing in national, international, and sports sections of daily papers, in popular magazines, in advertisements for treatment of "male" diseases, in labor-capital disputes, in virtually every facet of everyday life. Against this backdrop, Hoy played his final season in the same league along with baseball's other turn-of-the-century Deaf major league player. Although Luther Haden "Dummy" Taylor debuted in the major leagues with little fanfare on August 27, 1900, by 1902 he had established himself as a solid, if not spectacular, major league pitcher, winning 19 games in 1901 for a seventh-place ball club and pitching more innings and complete games than the legendary Christy Mathewson. However, Taylor's competence as a pitcher failed to save him from the jibes of the New York press. On May 21, Taylor was ejected from a game in Pittsburgh, a situation that sportswriter Sam Crane found quite humorous. Crane called umpire Robert Emslie's ejection of Taylor "farcical," but described the Giants pitcher's actions in a way that cast doubt on the identity of the farce's perpetrator. In an apparent attempt to add to the humor of his account, Crane managed to include a reference to William Hoy, who that day played in Brooklyn. According to Crane, following two questionable calls by Emslie, "Taylor threw his glove down on the ground and doubtless said more swear words mentally than this paper would care to print" (Crane, New York American, 22 May 1902, p. 5). Holding his hands over his ears in "dire fear that the 'dummy' might call him a liar out loud he [Emslie] sent him to the bench." Crane speculated that "if 'Dummy' Hoy ever opens his mouth he will be suspended for the season." Crane linked the two Deaf players together in a way that implied that their deafness made their competitive frustrations humorous, and prevented them from protesting umpires' decisions in the conventional vocal manner of argument (Crane, p. 5). Indeed, in Crane's narrative, Taylor behaved like a petulant child, throwing his glove to the ground to express his displeasure. Crane's report thus portrayed deafness as an impediment to manly behavior on the baseball field and ensured that his readers understood that Deaf players behaved humorously and childishly when frustrated (Thorn and Palmer, 1991; Neft, Cohen and M. Neft, 1999).

One week later, Crane again portrayed Taylor in an unflattering light in order to provide a humorous account of the pitcher's misfortunes. Pitching in Boston on May 28, Taylor lost the game on a wild pitch. In his account of the game-winning play, Crane juxtaposed the manly behavior of Taylor's catcher, Frank Bowerman, with the actions of the Deaf pitcher. As the ball went to the backstop, two Boston players apparently ran over to the ball and "did a war dance around the sphere." Undaunted, "Bowerman dove into a Kaleidoscope of red legs . . . dug up the ball and then looked for some one to throw it to." However, Taylor was trying to avoid the bat-swinging batter by "ducking and dodging under [Dick] Cooley like a monkey trying to escape a licking," and the base runner slid into home with the winning run. Taylor's inability to stand his ground and cover home negated Bowerman's heroic effort and cost his team a run and a victory (Crane, New York World, 29 May 1902, p. 5). Describing Taylor as a monkey seems significant as the trope is ubiquitous in the 19th century as a pejorative description of immigrants and other members of the non-dominant culture. In addition, Deaf people using sign language were often described as exhibiting the facial expressions of monkeys. During the fight against the use of sign language in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, opponents of sign language described the form of communication as "a set of monkey-like grimaces and antics," and one late 19th century sign language teacher lamented that sign language users were "incessantly" described as "look[ing] like monkeys" when communicating (Pettingill, 1873; Porter, 1894; Baynton, 1996). As Washington and Cincinnati sports writers had done to Hoy, New York writers used Taylor as a humorous foil.

Throughout the 1908 season, Taylor's disability provided a rich source of humor for New York writers. In June, even The New York Times, whose masculine rhetoric was usually less strident than the other New York dailies, got into the act. Pitching against the Chicago Cubs on June 20, Christy Mathewson struck out six Chicago batters. According to the Times, second baseman Johnny Evers, one of Mathewson's strikeout victims, "had no more idea of what Matty was doing than 'Dummy' Taylor has of that ventriloquist's turn over on the roof garden yonder" (Aulick, The New York Times, 21 June 1908, p. S2). In September, the pitcher's sign language apparently played a part in enabling Giants' manager John McGraw to circumvent the impact of a suspension. Although McGraw could have no field contact with the team during his suspension, according to the New York Globe's account, sign language made McGraw's ban "purely technical. He can keep out of sight of umpires here and still be where he can put his hand on any player on the Giants' bench. That, and the language of Luther Taylor will do the rest" (Fleming, p. 205, 1981). Later in September, the New York World reported that during an exciting moment in an important game, Taylor had "sprained three fingers trying to say something" (quoted in Fleming, p. 240). Finally, the Chicago Tribune commented that umpire "Hank O'Day won't allow 'Dummy' Taylor on the coaching lines. He chased 'Dummy' every time he got up. It's a pity the Giants can't use an orator when they carry him on the payroll" (quoted in Fleming, p. 243).

The notion that Taylor could not be trusted conformed to similar contemporary representations of non-dominant groups, including disabled people. One 1908 cartoon featured two swindlers—a stereotypical pigtailed, pajama-clad Chinese man and a sailor with a wooden leg. In the cartoon, the two men sell a gullible immigrant German scientist a ram instead of a goat. The ram attacks the scientist and he subsequently engages the aid of the police because he has been defrauded. While the policeman questions the landlady of the two scoundrels, they sneak out the back door. While not as overtly deceptive as the behavior of the two cartoon figures, Taylor's participation in McGraw's cheating nonetheless gave the Giants an unfair competitive advantage. Despite his ability to communicate secretly with his manager, Taylor's major league career concluded with the end of the 1908 season. His exit from the majors closed an era in baseball that featured seven of the 10 Deaf players who have performed in the major leagues. (According to the National Baseball Library and Archive, in addition to Hoy and Taylor, eight other Deaf players have played in the major leagues: Ed "Dummy" Dundon pitched and played the outfield in 1883-84 for Columbus of the American Association; Paul Hines, who became deaf due to an accident in 1886, played for several teams from 1872 to 1891; Thomas S. "Dummy" Lynch pitched one game for Chicago in 1884; George "Dummy" Leitner pitched for four clubs in 1901-02; William John "Dummy" Deegan, pitched two games for the New York Giants in 1901; Richard Francis Sipek played for Cincinnati in 1945; Matt Dan "Dummy" Lynch played for the Chicago Cubs in 1948; and Curtis Pride began his major league career with the Montreal Expos in 1993, last appearing in 1998 with the Atlanta Braves. Interestingly, of the seven pre-1908 players, every one with the exception of Hines, who became adventitiously deaf in 1886, carried the nickname "Dummy" [National Baseball Library and Archive; Thorn and Palmer, 1991].)

The stereotypical representations of Taylor's disability in the sports section paralleled the prevalence of ethnic and racial stereotypes in the mainstream press by 1908. Sportswriters for local newspapers and national sports publications spiced their reports with crude representations of non-white, non-protestant, non-native social groups. On August 11, the New York Tribune's sports reporter described how a "young darky jigged in front of the grand stand" to the music of a minstrel band, and "reaped a harvest of coins tossed to him by the happy, care-free rooters out for an afternoon's enjoyment" (Nie, New York Tribune, 11 August 1908, p. 5). Earlier that year, Sam Crane of the New York Journal had regaled his readers with a "humorous" account of the childish "chocolate babies" who found amusement in a players' spring training exercise. According to Crane, the "darkies" watching the exercise rolled "over and over on the grounds in paroxysms of laughter whenever a player lost his balance" (quoted in Fleming, p. 23). Racism was not confined to local publications. Joe Vila, a correspondent covering the New York baseball teams for St. Louis's Sporting News, a weekly national sports publication, frequently expressed anti-Semitic and nativist feelings. Following the Giants' narrow, second-place finish in 1908, Vila wrote of the Giants' fans:

You never saw such a sore lot of losers as grace the big town these lovely autumn days. There is all sorts of silly trash to be read in the yellow newspapers . . . and the long-nosed rooters who have made the Polo Grounds this summer look like the market place in Jerusalem are simply devouring the stuff like so many hungry wolves. (Vila, The Sporting News, 8 October 1908, p. 1).

Vila found the Jewish immigrant rooters' interest in Giants' infielder Charles "Buck" Herzog particularly noteworthy, commenting on September 17 that the

long-nosed rooters are crazy whenever young Herzog does anything noteworthy. Cries of "Herzog! Herzog! Goot poy, Herzog!" go up regularly, and there would be no let-up even if a million ham sandwiches suddenly fell among these believers in percentages and bargains. (Vila, The Sporting News, 17 September 1908, p. 1)

Shortly after Vila's piece appeared, Herzog spoke with the New York Mail's Gym Bagley in an effort to disabuse the fans of the notion that he was Jewish. Although Herzog possessed a prominent nose, he explained to Bagley that his nose had been broken when he was a child. Most important, Herzog wanted the fans to know he was simply a Dutchman, and not a Jew. According to Bagley, Herzog said of the fans, "They've got me wrong, I'm as Dutch as sauerkraut, but that's all" (Fleming, p. 265).

Vila's column in The Sporting News offers additional evidence of the racist, anti-Semitic, nativist, and anti-disability rhetoric which turn-of-the-century daily and weekly publications wove into their news, sports, and cartoons. Although much of this rhetoric has disappeared from mainstream reporting, stereotypical representations continue to adhere to Hoy and Taylor a century after their retirements. In Hoy's file at the Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, a newspaper clipping from 1897 relates the difficulties his teammates encountered in 1888 trying to wake him for a game. According to the article, titled "But Hoy Slept On. Funny Experience the Dummy Figured in Back in 1888," Hoy, then with Washington, had been assigned a private room and overslept. His teammates, unable to gain access to the room, began throwing plugs of tobacco through the transom at the "sleeping mute." They also attempted to wake him by throwing cards at him, to no avail. Finally, the players secured a bed sheet to which they fastened several keys which they "[drew] across his body and then [drew] forward till the keys caught fast to the collar of his nightshirt." This ploy ultimately roused the sleeping Hoy who thought "the boys were playing a joke on him." Hoy, responding as if he had been the butt of jokes on several previous occasions "bounded out of bed" and hurled a full water pitcher "at the heads peeping through the transom and deluged his supposed tormentors with water." While the tale may be embellished or even apocryphal, it reveals much about both the writer's conception of deafness and the ways writers used disability to construct humorous stories. Most people, confronted with a similar situation, would simply ask a hotel representative to open the door. Of course, this would make for a rather boring story (National Baseball Library and Archive, Hoy File).

The most oft-repeated anecdote about Luther Taylor is also embellished to increase its humorous effect. In his 1923 published memoirs, John McGraw related a story about the pitcher that has found its way into several accounts of Taylor's career. He could have chosen to say many things about his Deaf pitcher: Taylor had been a solid pitcher for the Giants, winning 21 games in 1904, and 16 games in their 1905 world championship season. However, McGraw wrote about an incident which made Taylor look foolish: Umpire Hank O'Day, following a torrential rainstorm, ordered play resumed in a game the Giants were leading. McGraw described Taylor darting "under the stand" and admitted that he "knew [Taylor] had something on his mind." Taylor returned to the field wearing a "huge pair of rubber boots. Those things are not nearly so funny to tell as to see. The ridiculous appearance of a ball player in rubber boots threw the stands into a roar of laughter." Apparently furious at Taylor's attempt to show him up, O'Day began yelling at Taylor to leave the playing field. O'Day finally got Taylor's attention, at which point the Deaf pitcher began signing to McGraw "what he thought of O'Day. All the Giants had learned the deaf-mute finger language and the players on the bench laughed at the terrible things he was saying about the umpire." (Other than anecdotal accounts, there is no discussion of how proficient members of the Giants were in sign language. In a 1942 interview in The Sporting News, Taylor stopped short of calling them fluent, saying "Most of them learned to talk with their fingers so as to help me." It seems likely that most of his teammates acquired only a superficial knowledge of American Sign Language in order to communicate with Taylor on a very basic level [Lanigan, p. 5].) Unfortunately for Taylor, O'Day was fluent in sign language; he ejected him from the game and fined him 25 dollars. McGraw closed his account with a description of Taylor, "head bowed," strolling "all the way across the field in his gum boots, his mind on that $25 fine" (National Baseball Library Archive McGraw, 1923). (The actual incident occurred on 15 June 1908, in a game between the Giants and the Cincinnati Reds. Interestingly, newspaper accounts mention only in passing Taylor appearing on the field in rubber boots. The real story revolved around McGraw's ejection from the game by umpire James Johnstone after Johnstone called the game in the fourth inning with the Giants leading 7-3 [Aulick, New York Times, 16 June 1908, p. 7]. Asked to talk about the "rubber boot story" by a reporter in 1942, Taylor replied laconically, "Oh, that one" [Lanigan, p. 5].)

As these anecdotes—separated by twenty-five years—about Hoy and Taylor illustrate, the tendency to portray the two Deaf players as childlike or unmanly persisted, in Taylor's case surfacing fifteen years after his retirement to be enshrined in his file in Cooperstown.

The hackneyed representations of Hoy and Taylor came, of course, nowhere close to describing the personalities of the two men or to describing the success enjoyed by both players off the field. According to Harold Seymour, Hoy in particular, "was a well-read gentleman with polished manners," a man who, during the course of his playing career and afterward, "acquired considerable property" and "accumulated [a substantial] nest egg" (Seymour, Seymour and Mills, 1989, pp. 326, 336). In addition, Hall-of-Famer Sam Crawford, who started his illustrious major league career as Hoy was playing his final seasons, called the Deaf outfielder "a fine outfielder. A great one" (Ritter, 1985, p. 53). Although Crawford maintained that Hoy belonged in the Hall of Fame, in an interview, he still could not resist including an anecdote that emphasized Hoy's deafness, describing the unique doorbell at the Hoy residence in Cincinnati:

Hoy had a wife who was a deaf mute too . . . instead of a bell on the door, they had a little knob [that] released a lead ball which rolled down a wooden chute and then fell off onto the floor with a thud . . . they felt the vibrations, through their feet, and they knew somebody was at the door. I thought that was quite odd and interesting, don't you? (Ritter, 1985, pp. 53-54)

Even Hoy's staunchest supporters felt the need to comment on his disability in a way that made him seem a curiosity.

The athletic ability of Hoy and Taylor should have enabled them to stand with the turn-of-the-century's "real" men but their deafness undermined their masculinity in the eyes of many sportswriters. Although no one directly attacked their manliness, the newspaper accounts suggest that writers felt compelled to separate the two Deaf players from their able-bodied counterparts and to include in their reports implicit doubts about their manhood. Men who shared the cultural values of turn-of-the-century manliness could interpret these implications in such a way as to enable them to place Hoy and Taylor on the margins of the world of manly men, thereby subordinating their obvious athletic talents to their disability and ensuring that masculine cultural space remained reserved for "normal" men.

While this essay's conclusions rely on only two historical subjects and a small sampling of available sources, it seems fair to assert that their athletic skill and public recognition afforded Hoy and Taylor economic advantages that resulted in a standard-of-living few early twentieth-century disabled people could achieve. Along with their inclusion in the Deaf community, the economic advantages provided by their professional baseball careers enabled them to mitigate some of the disabling effects of social oppression. Nevertheless, both players were subjected, during their careers, to stereotyping and continual, if veiled, attacks on their masculinity. Although not suffering the kind of oppression many turn-of-the-century disabled persons experienced, these two men felt the disdain of men who, reflecting the cultural norms of the period, had no compunctions about including narrow-minded commentary in their sports reports.

The strength of the masculine ideal in turn-of-the-century American culture allowed middle-class white males to measure non-whites, women, and disabled people against a normative standard that worked to limit social standing and economic power to persons whose race, gender, and physical abilities fell within the "normal" range. The representations of Hoy and Taylor seem to validate Rosemarie Garland Thomson's contention that for able-bodied persons, "disability . . . almost always dominates and skews the . . . process of sorting out perceptions and forming a reaction" to disabled persons (Thomson, 1997, pp. 9,12). In the cases of Hoy and Taylor, despite their obvious athletic gifts, their deafness enabled sportswriters to represent both men as childish and humorous curiosities. While their athletic prowess allowed them to compete in the highly-skilled environment of professional sports, their "defective" bodies allowed observers to describe them as unmanly, an apparent contradiction between reality and representation. Marked, as are all professional athletes, by physically gifted bodies that separated them from "ordinary" people, Hoy and Taylor found that they were also separated from "normal" people by their deafness. Ultimately, the distinctiveness of their disabilities overshadowed their athletic accomplishments and allowed sports writers to construct the identity of the "unmanly" or less-than-masculine Deaf ballplayer.


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Copyright (c) 2005 Robert E. Bionaz

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