from Dear Abby

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Thu Nov 7 23:37:59 UTC 2002

Separating fact from fancy in baseball lore is often impossible. But this
one has more than usual dose of truth to it.

According to my copy of _Total Baseball_, 4th ed., 1995, Luther Haden
"Dummy" Taylor (b. 1875, d. 1958) played with the NY Giants from 1900-08
(during the '02 season he played 4 games for Cleveland). His career record
was 116-106, (.523 pct) and a 2.75 ERA. In 1904 he won 21 games. Only in two
seasons (1901 & '02) did he pitch below .500. A respectable record.

Taylor was deaf and knew ASL. This much is confirmed.

The SF Giants web site says: "Upon assuming the reins of the Giants, McGraw
came up with an innovative solution for the problem of what to do with
Luther 'Dummy' Taylor, the only deaf-mute person to play in the majors in
the 20th century. McGraw made his entire team learn sign language so they
could communicate with him, and when they started using the skill in games,
the earliest form of 'signs' in baseball."

It is plausible and probably likely that McGraw and the team learned some
pidgin ASL, rather than gaining fluency in the language.

McGraw was a very interesting character. He was fiery and combative and held
grudges. There was no 1904 World Series in large part because of McGraw's
dislike for the American League president, Ban Johnson. Yet after he
retired, he carried around with him a list of all the African-American
players he had wanted to recruit but had not been allowed to. His learning
ASL would not be out of character, as long as it helped him win ballgames.

I did find one amusing story about Taylor signing profanity about an umpire.
The umpire noticed and fined Taylor. It turned out that the umpire had a
deaf relative and knew enough ASL to understand the gist of Taylor's

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society
> [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
> Of Arnold Zwicky
> Sent: Thursday, November 07, 2002 1:14 PM
> Subject: from Dear Abby
> a recent column tells the following story:
>     In the early 1900s, the New York Giants had a pitcher
>   naned Luther H. Taylor.  He was a deaf mute who was, in
>   an era of insensitivity, nicknamed "Dummy."  Taylor lost
>   a lot of games due to his inability to communicate with
>   his teammates.
>     John McGraw, the manager of the Giants, was under enormous
>   pressure from the team's owner, then fans and the sportswiters
>   to trade Taylor.  Instead, McGraw required the entire Giant
>   team to learn American Sign Language.  Once that was
>   accomplished, McGraw used hand signals to lead his team.
>   That's the origin of the hand signals that are used in baseball
>   today.
>         Stephen Redmond, M.D.,
>           Morgan Hill
> Dear Abby thanks dr. redmond for "a fascinating tidbit of
> information" (intended to be encouraging to a disabled
> correspondent).
> extremely dubious information.  but what i'm interested in is
> any history of *the story*.  has anyone investigated its sources?
> arnold (zwicky at

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