I recently re- read a wonderful book on baseball, “The Glory of Their Times”, by Lawrence Ritter. The author tells the story of baseball in the, dead ball era. The dead ball era, were the years after the turn of the century through the years just following World War I. This a wonderfully researched book. Ritter gives the reader a glimpse of nor only what sports were like in those years, but a view of everyday life in the United States.
Mentioned more than a few times in the interviews that comprise the book was an intriguing man a pitcher named Luther Haden “Dummy” Taylor. He went by the horrible nickname, “Dummy” due to the fact Taylor was born deaf. Taylor was truly a remarkable person and a true character in a time when baseball was taking hold as our nations– “National Past time” Born on February 21, 1875 in Oskaloosa Kansas, Taylor attended the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe Kansas graduating in 1895 as class valedictorian.
According to an article on Taylor published in the magazine; Society for Baseball Research (SABR), Taylor began his journey to the Major Leagues following his graduation from the Olathe school. His major league debut was in 1900 with the N.Y. Giants completing the season with a 4 wins and three losses. Following one more year with the Giants he played for Cleveland in 1902, with the hopes of making more money. He returned to the Giants the following season and played with them until 1908. He was a dependable pitcher posting a career record of 116 wins and 106 losses. He was member of the 1905 World Champions, and was scheduled to pitch in the third game of the series. He would have become the only deaf player to start in a World Series game. Sadly he never appeared. The game he was scheduled to pitch was rained out. His teammates called him a square shooter, had excellent control, and was a great fielder. He was the 3rd starter on great Giant teams managed by John McGraw, and featured Christy Mathewson, and “Iron Man” McGinnity. Here is a link to his career record courtesy of Baseball Reference.
But it was in other ways that Taylor was a truly remarkable. His personality and resolve was such that he strove to overcome the physical handicap he was born with. Taylor was part of the Giants and they were a part of him. His first manager, George Davis learned American Sign Language and encouraged the other players to do the same. When Davis stepped down and was followed by John McGraw he did the same thing.
In Ritter’s book, teammate Fred Snodgrass, said Dummy would take offense if one did not learn sign language. “We could all speak and read the language…He wanted to be one of us, to be a full-fledged member of the team. So we learned”
The team even turned this into a competitive advantage. According to records in the Baseball Hall of Fame being able to communicate with each other without spoken words enabled the Giants to develop a complex series of signs to communicate game strategy without being heard. Anytime you go a game at any level you see the legacy of Taylor living on as coaches and players use hand signals to indicate and convey strategic moves during the course of game.
Following his playing career Taylor went back to Kansas. Teaching and coaching at the Kansas School for the Deaf. The gymnasium there is named in memory of him. He also coached at the Iowa school for the Deaf, and the Illinois School for the Deaf until he retired in 1949. One of his proudest moments came in 1945 when a player he had coached named Dick Sipek played for the Cincinnati Reds. Sipek, a deaf mute was the first player to escape the “Dummy” nickname. Taylor told the Baseball Magazine that the nickname “Dummy” was not a problem. It didn’t hurt me. It made me fight harder. Nobody ever felt sorry for me…..
David Wilcox a teacher at The Kansas School for the Deaf, and a former minor league pitcher, remembers thinking as a youngster; “I want to be the first deaf Major League pitcher…..Then I found out about Taylor and I was kind of sad. But I was also happy that he had been there to represent us”
Taylor accomplished a great deal in his life. He was a, teammate, leader, teacher, role model, and ultimately a bridge builder between those who could hear, and those that didn’t. Taylor was a pioneer for inclusion and acceptance for people with disabilities they by their courage demanded that they be allowed into the mainstream of American culture. Along with William Hoy a contemporary of Taylor, a outfielder for the Cincinnatti Reds who also was deaf, they broke down barriers in the same way as Jackie Robinson did a generation later. Both men destroyed the prevailing myth about deaf people, that were aloof, mentally ill, or too ignorant to learn how to speak.
Taylor died on August 22, 1958. He is buried in Baldwin Kansas. He was the second player inducted into the American Athletic Association for the Deaf Hall of Fame. He was the main character in a novel titled Havana Heat, written by Darryl Brock. (Sorry the Library does not own this book. But I am pretty sure if you want to read it, you can submit a Interlibrary loan request) In 2006 Luther Taylor was inducted into the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame. A monument was erected on his gravesite in Baldwin Kansas in 2008. So here is to one of Kansas’s as well as sports unsung heroes.