Reading the Signs

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, opening in Ellinwood on January 31st.

Luther Taylor, front left, with members of his baseball team in Winchester, Kansas. Image courtesy of KansasMemory, Kansas Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Luther Taylor, front left, with members of his baseball team in Winchester, Kansas. Image courtesy of KansasMemory, Kansas Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

It’s not unusual for athletes to let the referees know how they feel about a call—sometimes loudly. Passion is part of the game, so it takes something really out of line for a ref to eject a player for mouthing off.

Luther Taylor of Oskaloosa, Kansas, was as passionate a baseball player as any, but he got away with more than most.

Taylor, who played for the New York Giants and the Cleveland Bronchos between 1900 and 1908, was Deaf and mute. So when he insulted referees through sign language, they often didn’t know what he was saying.

But sometimes they did.

Taylor was once kicked out of a game and fined $25 for hurling some choice words at umpire Hank O’Day. O’Day, who had grown up with Deaf family members, promptly informed Taylor of his punishment—in sign language, which he spoke fluently.

Although Taylor was quick to have fun at the refs’ expense, the pitcher insisted on his teammates learning sign language so they could all speak to each other. In fact, he cut his single season with the Bronchos short because they wouldn’t bother to learn his language.

His teammates on the Giants, however, all learned sign language, which they used to their advantage on the field. According to Kevin Baxter, hand signals had been used in baseball for years. But the Giants were the only team that regularly used actual sign language, especially when Taylor was serving as base coach.

Following his retirement from baseball, Taylor coached for many years, including at Kansas State School for the Deaf in Olathe—the same school where he had been valedictorian.

Taylor proved successful as a coach, too. According to David Anderson, “One of his proudest moments came in 1945 when Dick Sipek played with the Cincinnati Reds. Sipek [who was Deaf and mute] was the first player to escape the ‘Dummy’ nickname”—an offensive nickname then common to non-hearing, non-speaking people, and one that Taylor had carried throughout his own baseball career.

New stories of Kansas hometown teams and hometown heroes will be posted on the KHC Blog each week through November 2015. You can also follow KHC on Facebook and Twitter to see the latest post.