Hoy gets another Hall close-up with movie

When the Baseball Hall of Fame Film Festival closes, Saturday, Sept. 21, William “Dummy” Hoy will be as close as he has ever gotten to a Cooperstown celebration. However, the producers of the movie, “The Silent Natural,” which screens at 7 p.m. hope there will be even better news next year when the Early Baseball Committee announces its list of 2021 nominees and inductees. 

“It would be great if we could get him recognized and on the ballot,” Natural writer, producer and director David Risotto told The Daily Star on Wednesday, Sept. 17. “He is in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, and has been there for a long time now. So we hope people will see he is worthy.”

Hoy, 1862-1961, was born William Ellsworth Hoy, but became known in baseball as “Dummy.” Deaf from childhood, Hoy’s baseball skills led him to a 14-year career in professional baseball, most notably with his home-state Reds. Hoy taught his teammates sign language, and they used it to signal baseball strategy to him, believed to be the first use of signs in baseball. Umpire signals may have developed for Hoy’s benefit, too. 

Risotto had been working in Hollywood as an actor and writer, when he decided he wanted to make his own movies. He said he heard Hoy’s story on set, from a member of the deaf community, and when he was researching Hoy, he found Steve Sandy. Sandy, who is also deaf, learned about Hoy in the 1980s and started the Hoy for the Hall organization, to raise awareness of Hoy’s success. 

“Steve Sandy and I have been working together for about 15 years,” Risotto said. “Steve was the reason Hoy is in the Cincinnati Reds’ Hall of Fame.

“We were offered a lot of money for this story,” Risotto said, “but they wanted us to walk away and have nothing to do with the film. I would not have been able to write and direct it. Steve would not have been the producer.”

Instead, the duo made a documentary about Hoy, and it was a success. It screened at the 2nd Baseball Film Festival in 2007, and Risotto said the attention it got allowed him and Sandy to raise the money to make, “The Silent Natural,” themselves. 

The film stars Miles Barbee as Hoy, and it was released this year in select theaters, Risotto said. At last weekend’s Victory International Film Festival in Evansville, Indiana, “The Silent Natural,” won the Best Feature Film Award, while Risotto was nominated for Best Screenplay and Best Director and Barbee for Best Actor. 

Saturday’s screening, in the Hall’s Bullpen Theater, will be the New York premiere, Risotto said.  

“We’re honored to be back,” Risotto said. “I loved the first time I was in Cooperstown, and I am looking forward to this time.”

And although, Risotto said he is looking forward to telling Hoy’s story to a Hall of Fame audience, he said he is also looking forward to another screening, Friday’s opening screening of “A League of Their Own,” which features a panel with All-American Girls Professional Baseball League alumnae Maybelle Blair, Shirley Burkovich, and Mary Moore, who were among the inspirations for the 1992 movie. 

“I can’t wait to meet the ladies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League,” Risotto said. 

The panel begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, in the Hall’s Grandstand Theater in Cooperstown, with a screening of “A League of Their Own” to follow.

Go to www.baseballhall.org/news/ for more information. 

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