Oskaloosa to celebrate life of former deaf-mute MLB pitcher

An exhibit honors former MLB pitcher Luther "Dummy" Taylor at the Deaf Cultural Center in Olathe.
An exhibit honors former MLB pitcher Luther "Dummy" Taylor at the Deaf Cultural Center in Olathe.

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Baseball is a game of spirit, passion and patience.

America’s Pastime dates back to the mid-1800s and we all know the greats that have come before us. But there’s one legend who may be forgotten if it wasn’t for the help of a Kansas organization.

The sounds of the game are easily identified. However, visual cues, such as signals and hand gestures may have originated in our own backyard.

“I like to inform people, share with people the news about Dummy Luther Taylor,” said Chuck Theel who portrays the former MLB pitcher.

Luther Taylor was a deaf-mute pitcher in Major League Baseball in the early 1900s.

He was born in Oskaloosa in 1875 and is credited for making sign language the universal way to communicate between players and coaches on the diamond.

“The best part is there’s always somebody asking for different signs in baseball terms, like the word ‘out’ I would say out if I say ‘safe’ I go safe and many of these kids are learning how to sign,” Theel said.

Taylor became one of the top pitchers in baseball where he won a pair of National League Championships with the New York Giants in 1904 and 1905.

Sometimes Theel confuses himself when portraying “Dummy” Taylor.

“I got up in the morning and I felt hey my name is Dummy,” Theel said. “And I would walk like him, no no, I am me. (Laughs)”

Taylor’s legacy is preserved at the Deaf Cultural Center in Olathe, where an exhibit is dedicated to his career in baseball and beyond.

As a child, he attended the Kansas School for the Deaf, which is located right across the street from the Deaf Cultural Center.

Taylor later taught and coached at the school following his retirement from baseball.

“You can do anything that you want to do and not letting other people’s ideas preventing you from doing what you want to do,” said Sandra Kelly who is the executive director of the Deaf Cultural Center. “Often people look at having hearing loss or being deaf as ‘oh my gosh they are so disabled’ which is so not true.”

Kelly said adjusting to daily life wasn’t easy for people like Taylor in the 1900s.

“Very, very difficult as a deaf individual to have a so-called normal life as far as getting out there in sports, finding a job, raising families because the perception was you can’t do that and well of course you can do it,” Kelly said.

Next weekend in his hometown of Oskaloosa, Taylor’s life will be honored at the 112th Annual Oskaloosa Old Settler’s Festival.

He is one of three distinguished recipients from Jefferson County being celebrated.

“I am just absolutely thrilled that Oskaloosa is doing this in memory of Luther Taylor because what a hometown hero,” Kelly said. “So, congratulations to Oskaloosa for doing this, that’s really very, very cool.”

The Old Settler’s Festival begins Thursday, June 27 and concludes Saturday, June 29 in downtown Oskaloosa.

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