“Dummy” Taylor to be honored by Oskaloosa
by Dennis Sharkey
This year’s installment of the Oskaloosa Old Settlers’ Reunion will highlight famous locals including former Major League Baseball pitcher Luther Haden “Dummy” Taylor.
Taylor’s nickname came from the fact that he was deaf but he was far from anything dumb.
He was born Feb. 21, 1875, on a farm near Oskaloosa where he grew up before moving on to the Kansas School for the Deaf. He graduated the school in 1895 as the valedictorian.
Taylor was very athletic growing up and wanted to pursue a career in boxing but his parents objected so he turned to baseball.
He got his first shot at the Major Leagues in 1900 and pitched until 1908 when he was forced to retire because of a bum arm.
Today Taylor is an icon, especially in the world of the deaf. The KSD named their gym after him in 1961 and he has a prominent place at the Deaf Cultural Center located next to the campus of KSD.
Old Settlers’ Reunion committee chairman Matt Miller paid a visit to KSD and the DCC this month to learn more about Taylor and to gather data for a tribute to the Oskaloosa native at this year’s celebration.
Miller met with DCC Executive Director Sandra Kelly to learn more about Taylor’s story.
During Miller’s visit a group of Brownies were learning about the DCC and Taylor. Although they were not present the day Miller visited, normally there are deaf actors at the DCC who dress up in a 1908 replica uniform that Taylor would have worn while playing for the National League’s New York Giants.
Taylor was not only a great pitcher in the Major Leagues but he was also an innovator and his teammates and coaches were drawn to his upbeat personality. Taylor was known as a jokester.
Kelly also credits Taylor’s manager John McGraw with his success in MLB. McGraw had a willingness to work with Taylor, and his teammates developed signs to communicate with him.
“He saw the necessity of Luther being able to communicate with his teammates,” Kelly said about McGraw. “Communication is everything.”
Kelly said at the time Taylor attended the KSD the state looked upon deaf people as handicapped and most were considered dissolute. She said Taylor and other students at the school saw baseball as something they could do and do well.
“That was the hot game,” Kelly said. “It was something they could do and have a lot of pride in doing.”
KSD’s original name was the
Kansas State School for the Deaf and Dumb but the name was changed to reflect that the stereotype did not apply to deaf people.
However, Taylor saw the word dummy as a term of endearment. In 1952 he told a Wichta Eagle reporter that he preferred to be called “Dummy.”
“He was very proud of it,” Kelly said. “He didn’t see it as a derogatory term but a statement of who he was.”
Taylor helped change the way baseball was played during his time in MLB. Today when an umpire makes a call there is a hand gesture that goes with the call. This was instilled during Taylor’s time so that he and others could see what the call was.
After his MLB career Taylor spent some time as an umpire. An ironic choice because Taylor much of his MLB career would poke fun of umpires.
Kelly likes to tell a story of a time when one umpire had a relative in the stands who understood sign language and Taylor was thrown out of the game once the umpire was alerted to his behavior. Taylor was also not afraid to walk up to an umpire and mouth or gesture to get thrown out of a game.
“He was a fighter,” Kelly said. “He had to fight for his credibility.”
After baseball Taylor returned to KSD as a coach. He taught boys’ and girls’ basketball, football and baseball.
He later moved on to coach in Iowa and Illinois.
Taylor’s name resurfaced in Oskaloosa a few years ago when the city council briefly discussed renaming the city park after Taylor but nothing materialized.
He is buried in Baldwin, Kansas.
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