On May 31, Hopkinsville, Kentucky, will host the premiere of “The Silent Natural,” bringing the story of one of the first deaf big-league baseball players to the big screen, thanks in part to decades of work by Columbus resident Steve Sandy.
Since 1989, Sandy has studied the life of William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy, the deaf centerfielder whose story is the stuff of underdogs. In the 1880s, men who could neither hear nor speak didn’t play professional baseball. Hoy succeeded despite a whole world of naysayers.
Sandy’s interest in Hoy began with a deaf association’s unsuccessful attempt to get Hoy inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The budding historian, who is also deaf, took up the cause, connecting with Hoy’s family and scouring baseball archives. He studied Hoy extensively—his early years in Houcktown, Ohio; his graduation from the Ohio School for the Deaf in Columbus as its youngest valedictorian ever; and his time in the majors from 1888 to 1902, which included 41 home runs, 605 stolen bases and one game in which he threw out three baserunners at home plate from the outfield.
Sandy eventually partnered with director David Risotto, who previously created the short documentary “I See the Crowd Roar: The Story of William ‘Dummy’ Hoy.” Despite offers from other studios, Risotto says he independently financed “The Silent Natural” so that he and Sandy, credited as a producer and the movie’s researcher, could retain creative control and keep a promise to Hoy’s family that the lead character would not be played by a hearing actor.
Sandy and Risotto hope the film will provide the final push for Hoy to get the call-up to Cooperstown. “Hoy’s induction is the only thing that will make the movie a success,” Risotto says.