Ryan Lane Official Web Site

Local student plays baseball role
06:51 AM PDT Tuesday, August 7, 2007 By IMRAN VITTACHI
The Press-Enterprise Video: Interview Video
Local student stars in documentary about 'Dummy'
Photos: Dummy Hoy: A Deaf Hero Dummy Hoy Photos

Chatsworth filmmaker David Risotto searched for someone who was deaf, could play baseball and resembled William Ellsworth Hoy to star in his upcoming documentary about the deaf baseball legend nicknamed "Dummy."

He picked Ryan Lane after seeing the 19-year-old's photo in a yearbook from the California School for the Deaf in Riverside.

Lane, a senior, had no acting experience but was close to perfect for the part, though "something had to be done" about his Mohawk, Risotto recalled.

During five grueling days of filming this past spring the filmmaker transformed Lane into Hoy, a hero in the American deaf community and one of professional baseball's first deaf players.

Hoy was a major league outfielder for 14 seasons from 1888 through 1902. He played for six franchises, including the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Browns/Cardinals.

High schools for deaf students nationwide now compete in a baseball tournament named after Hoy. Lane, the youngest of three children, was born deaf. He splits his time living with his mother, Jill, in Diamond Bar and father, Bill, in Ontario. During his junior year, Lane played centerfield for California School for the Deaf in the Hoy Classic.

"Dummy Hoy's life was more hard than mine because he was by himself, deaf in the middle of a hearing world," Lane said through sign language while his sister Kristyn interpreted for him. "I go to a school where all three or four hundred students are deaf, so it's easier for me to talk to them."

The pejorative nickname "Dummy" was given to Hoy and other deaf-mute ball players from that era because hearing people back then assumed that they lacked intelligence since they had difficulty speaking .

Not only did Hoy have a successful baseball career in an era when deaf people relied on paper and pencil to communicate with hearing people but his legend has it that Hoy influenced the development of hands signals used by umpires today to indicate strikes and balls.
Paul Alvarez / The Press-Enterprise Ryan Lane, 18, is starring in a documentary film on the life of William Elsworth "Dummy" Hoy, the first deaf pro baseball player.

Ryan Lane, 18, is starring in a documentary film on the life of William Elsworth "Dummy" Hoy, the first deaf pro baseball player. Next stop: Cooperstown? Hoy, who died in 1961 at age 99, was inducted posthumously into the Reds' Hall of Fame and the Ohio Baseball of Hall of Fame.

The deaf community is pushing for the former shoe cobbler to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. His supporters argue that Hoy's record was better than that of some hearing players from his era who are already enshrined at Cooperstown, and that his influence on the game's hand signals were a major contribution to the national pastime's history.

Risotto, who is not deaf or hearing-impaired, said he hopes his film will attract national attention for the cause. . Risotto plans to release his documentary, "Dummy Hoy: A Deaf Hero," in September, and he may follow up with a feature film on Hoy starring Ryan Lane.

Risotto said he is currently negotiating with the History Channel and the Discovery Channel to air the documentary. National Baseball Hall of Fame officials agree that Hoy posted some impressive numbers in his pro career -- such as scoring 100 or more runs in nine out of his 14 seasons -- but the institution has stringent rules for induction, they said.

Between one and 1.5 percent of all players who have played in the big leagues have made it into the Hall, said Freddy Berowski, a researcher and head of the reference desk at the Hall of Fame's library. About 17,000 have played big league baseball, but only 198 players -- including the newest honorees -- ex-Padre Tony Gwynn and ex-Oriole Cal Ripken -- have made it to Cooperstown. Berowski couldn't confirm the theory about Hoy's influence on hand signals in the game.

Hall of Fame rules stipulate that a long-retired or dead player must have played in the big leagues for at least 10 years to be eligible for induction. An eligible player can only get in if he receives 75 percent of votes cast by members of the Hall's Veterans Committee, made up largely of living Hall of Famers. The committee votes on a list of 25 candidates screened and submitted by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

On July 28, the rules were changed to allow the veterans to have some control over the screening of player-candidates by choosing five names for the list. The rules have created a new category for pre-World War II players, including Hoy, under which a 12-member committee appointed by the Hall's board of directors would review a list of prospective candidates for induction once every five years, starting in 2009. "To date Dummy Hoy has not made the final ballot," Brad Horn, spokesman for the Hall, said. . "The baseball writers have felt that the candidacy of Hoy isn't as strong as the 25 men they've put on the ballot." Nonetheless, Horn noted, Hoy remains part of the national pastime's history through photos, images and files housed in the Hall of Fame's museum.

Bouncing back Earlier this year, when Risotto found the young man who would play the role of Hoy in his film, he was unaware that Ryan Lane narrowly escaped tragedy in a dirt-bike crash last September. Lane's injuries came close to leaving him paralyzed, said his mother, Jill Lane.

He broke his lower back and left femur while trying to execute a jump at Pismo Beach . Lane spent most of the fall 2006 semester at home, recovering from surgery to repair his spine. A steel rod and screws replaced the broken section of his spine.

He returned to school in Riverside late last year but wore a body brace until January. "I was more concerned of making sure he wasn't sliding into bases and swinging the bat too hard and compromising his recovery," said Jill Lane, who accompanied her son to the film set in Ventura, the Disney Golden Oak Ranch in Santa Clarita and a baseball field in Burbank.

Lane had butterflies about acting in a film and playing Hoy. A natural righty, Lane had to learn how to bat left-handed like Hoy. He also needed help learning his lines. On the set, deaf actress Deanne Bray, who played opposite Lane as Hoy's wife, helped him with his lines. "I was totally surprised," Risotto said of Lane. "He did extremely well for somebody that doesn't have acting experience.... I would use him again in a second."

Lane's accident and rehabilitation delayed his graduation from the School for the Deaf, but he participated in the June commencement ceremony. He plans to finish this fall and train as an auto mechanic at the Universal Technical Institute in Rancho Cucamonga. "Honestly, I'm not really interested in being famous," Ryan said. "If I become famous (it) makes other people think I'm acting like I'm showing off. And I'd rather ... that everybody feel the same and make it fair."

Reach Imran Vittachi at 951-567-2404 or ivittachi@PE.com
THE SILENT NATURAl In his 14-year professional baseball career, William Ellsworth "Dummy" Hoy played in 1,796 games in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He finished his career with 40 home runs, 2,045 hits in 7,112 at bats, and maintained a .288 career batting average. In 1888, his rookie year with the Washington Nationals/Senators, he led all National League players in stolen bases with 82 steals; he also had 118 hits that year, fourth highest in the league. In 1891, when he played for the St. Louis Browns/Cardinals, Hoy led the American Association in number of games played (141), number of times on base (296); He finished that year fourth in the association with 141 hits.

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