Ed Dundon grew up in Columbus at the Ohio Institute for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb. Since he was deaf and couldn’t speak, baseball saddled him with the nickname “Dummy,” like others with the same affliction. In 1883 the American Association expanded, adding a franchise in Columbus. Dundon joined the club after the school year and pitched for the team for two seasons. Thus, he became the first deaf-mute in major league history. Other men with severe hearing loss had previously played in the majors but the extent of their hearing loss is a little less defined and accrued later in life.
Dundon died before age 35 from tuberculosis. His obituaries promulgated a series of misconceptions about the former pitcher. For one, some contained a ridiculous story about him regain hearing and speech on his deathbed. In this account he conversed with his wife and other attendants. His wife however was also a student at the Ohio Institute from a very young age. Another claim declared that Dundon’s deafness was achieved via typhoid fever from the age of three. That seems unlikely considering the family connection with three deaf children born up to ten years a part. An obituary also mentioned that Dundon quit the game because of the onset of the disease that finally killed him. That seems unlikely as well.
Edward Joseph Dundon was born on July 10, 1859, in Columbus, Ohio, to Irish immigrants John and Mary Dundon. The Dundons left Ireland circa 1855 after having their first child in 1854. They had ten others through 1872, Edward being the fourth. Though John and Mary didn’t suffer from hearing problems, their children Edward, Mary and Ellen did. This perhaps suggests a genetic cause behind the hearing loss and probably indicates that the hearing loss was congenital. John supported the family as a “laborer.” The couple’s first child, Thomas, became a popular area Democratic politician and the largest lumber dealer in Central Ohio.
Edward, Mary, and Ellen grew up and lived at the Ohio Institute for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb in Columbus during the school year. Edward entered the school in September 1868 at age nine and returned every fall well into his twenties. He continued to work there as a book binder even after officially graduating at high school age. Mary entered the same year, Ellen, quite a bit younger, not until 1875.
The institute consisted of a multi-storied school building with three main, attached wings separated by two open courtyards. The center wing contained the dining hall. The east wing housed the boys, the west the girls. From a school publication describing the latter two wings, “The first story is used as a playroom. The second is the sitting or study room, and is used out of school and work hours. The two upper stories are dormitories.” Besides the normal course load, the school also taught the students a trade. Dundon studied book binding, graduating a class valedictorian in 1878. Many students from the school remained after graduation to teach or otherwise apply their trade. Dundon returned winters after the baseball season and worked on premises plying his trade.
The Ohio Institute was the first residential secondary school in the United States to incorporate a baseball program. The school’s shoemaking teacher, Parley P. Pratt, began training the boys during the 1870s. Pratt was a graduate of Williams College and had taught at similar institutions in Philadelphia and California. He was the baseball coach throughout Dundon’s tenure. The players communicated with signs. In 1886 Dundon umpired an exhibition game in the south between professional clubs. His signs that day give perhaps an indication of those used at the institute. The fingers on his right hand denoted strikes; thus, the left hand fingers identified the number of balls. A shake of the head, meaning “No,” as in you didn’t make the play in time, was the safe signal. A wave of the hand signified that a base runner was out.
Historian Peter Morris points out that the institute had a strong baseball program during the 1870s and ’80s. Pratt developed his squad to the point that it embarked on a statewide barnstorming tour in 1879. Billed as the Ohio Independents, the team logged 3,500 miles traveling throughout the state and beyond. They racked up an impressive 44-7 record. The Independents even faced Cincinnati, Cleveland, Syracuse and Troy of the National League. They fared extremely well, posting a 6-2 record against the major league clubs. Dundon was the star pitcher of the nine.
Among Dundon’s classmates were future professional players John Ryn, from Marion; William Hoy, from Houcktown; William L. and Isaac Sawhill, from Otsego. Ryn, a catcher, pitcher and utility player three years younger than Dundon, entered the school in 1870. He played in the minors through 1895 for various clubs in the Midwest and South. Hoy, an outfielder the same age as Ryn, enrolled at the Ohio Institute in 1872. Hoy played fourteen seasons in the major leagues. William Sawhill, a catcher about the same age as Dundon, enrolled in 1873. He played in the minors in the late 1880s. William’s brother Isaac, or Ike, also attended the school and played pro ball. George Kihm, who entered the institute in 1880, was also at the school during Dundon’s extended stay but he was fourteen years younger and they didn’t play ball together as classmates.
The boys lived together nine months of the year, playing ball as weather and class and work/chore schedules permitted. Dundon, a righthander, was one of the main pitchers. He was big for the era, 6’ and 170 pounds. As the boys grew older, they joined local amateur and semi-pro clubs during the summer breaks, playing with hearing teammates. In 1882 Dundon and Ryn played for the independent Columbus Buckeyes. The two worked as the club’s battery. After a successful first year in 1882, the American Association expanded to add two teams, New York and Columbus. The Buckeyes, reorganized and re-manned, incorporated pros from other association teams while retaining some holdovers from 1882. In late May 1883 Dundon and Ryn re-joined the club when school let out. Ryn was assigned to the reserve squad and never actually appeared in the majors. Dundon made his big league debut on June 2, a complete game 8-6 victory over Philadelphia.
He started 19 games and posted a miserable 3-16 record, only striking out 31 batters and walking 38 more. Likewise, Columbus finished in sixth place. One observer summed up his technique, “Dundon’s delivery is somewhat erratic but very fast.” The St. Louis Globe-Democrat admired his versatility: “Dundon played left field superbly, showing excellent judgment and making his catches in an easy manner. He is a very serviceable man.” Dundon was reserved by the club at the end of the season and rejoined the club in the spring. The Buckeyes released left fielder Harry Walker so the pitchers were called on to help cover the outfield. Dundon appeared in sixteen games as an outfielder. He made only two pitching starts in May and then reappeared in mid August. In total he started nine games for a 6-4 record. The team finished in second place under manager Gus Schmelz. It was a tough year financially though. The association had expanded to twelve teams and the Union Association cropped up to compete with the majors for talent and attendance. Columbus was one of four clubs cut over the winter. Regardless, the Buckeyes decided not to reserve Dundon in September. He continued to barnstorm with his teammates well into October.
There were more than a handful of deaf players with professional careers overlapping Dundon’s. Besides Hoy, Reuben Stephenson and Tom Lynch also reached the majors. Old-time ballplayers Paul Hines, Doug Allison and Pete Browning also had severe hearing loss. Among the minor leaguers was Kihm who played for two decades, the Sawhill brothers, Ed Gillespie and a guy with the surname James who played with Oswego in 1887. Quite a few of these men were from Ohio: Ryn, Dundon, Gillespie, Hoy, Kihm, and Sawhills.
Dundon and Ryn took off for the south in 1885, joining the Southern League, Ryn with Chattanooga and Dundon with Atlanta. It was a tight race but Atlanta took the pennant by a game over Augusta. Dundon posted a 21-11 record with 210 strikeouts and 1.30 ERA in 37 games pitched. In ’86 Dundon spent the season with Nashville of the same league. In March, he struck out fifteen Pittsburgh batters during a spring training contest. On June 1, the righthander defeated Atlanta 5-3 allowing only one hit and fanning thirteen. Four days later, he had a little trouble with the umpire: “Dundon, the mute pitcher of the Nashvilles, was fined by umpire Young recently for kicking. The kick consisted of walking toward the plate and throwing up both hands toward Young in a manner that plainly said, “You’re a fool.” With Nashville he posted a meager 13-15 record which is conspicuous considering it was accompanied by a 1.35 ERA in 35 games. In September he joined the Acid Iron Earths of the Gulf League. On October 20 in a game versus Mobile in Mobile Dundon was called on to umpire. The game may be the first instance of a deaf umpire calling a contest between professional squads. The New York Clipper admitted that he “gave entire satisfaction” with his performance. In November he inked a deal for ’87 with Syracuse of the International League.
On January 9 Dundon went out on a bender with a friend named Sullivan. They ended up at a bar near an army base early Sunday morning. Apparently, Sullivan got into a scuffle with a couple drunken soldiers. Dundon moved into separate the men. One soldier hit him with a glass and another pulled a knife. Dundon received “several very bad cuts in the face.”
Syracuse finished in third place in 1887, four games out of first. On July 23 Dundon strained his pitching arm and had to seek medical attention because of the inflammation. It didn’t keep him down long though. He pitched in forty games, accruing a 20-15 win-loss record. At the end of the season he was fined $50 for drunkenness by club management. In November he re-signed with the club. He also went to Hot Springs that month with several other players to get into shape. The Hot Springs visit may have been at the team’s request – to get him to dry out. The club was part of the renamed independent International Association in 1888 and took the pennant by 5.5 games over Toronto. On Syracuse’s roster were African-Americans Fleet Walker and Robert Higgins, one of the few minor league clubs to be integrated that season. Teaming with a black player wasn’t new to Dundon as the Ohio Institute accepted students of both races. Walker in fact liked Syracuse but at the time he was amid his running troubles with league officials, Cap Anson and opposing fans and ballplayers. Organized Baseball would soon rid itself of such complications for decades to come.
Dundon was drinking more and more. In August he was fined $100 and suspended for ten days. According to the Chicago Daily Inter Ocean, “Syracuse has released pitcher Dundon, the deaf-mute. Dundon is a good twirler, but imbibes too freely.” He had only pitched in eighteen games for the club. He then returned home and joined Columbus in the Tri-State League for two games. On September 13 he married Mary Lizzie Woolley from Cincinnati. She was a classmate from the Ohio Institute, entering the school a year after he did. The disrespect for Dundon continued. Upon hearing of his marriage, the Milwaukee Sentinel joked, “Dundon, of the Syracuse Stars, is one of the most indulgent husbands in the world. His wife can do just as she pleases and he never says a word.” The couple had a son, Edwin Pius, in September 1889. He had no hearing difficulties. The family lived at 490 Mt. Vernon Avenue in Columbus.
Over the winter of 1888-89, he returned to the Ohio Institute as normal to work as a book binder. The Daily Inter Ocean suggested another line of work: “Dundon and Hoy could work the variety circuits with “We Never Speak as We Pass By.” In April 1889 Dundon joined Evansville of the Central Interstate League. He played with the club through mid July when he was fined $50 and suspended indefinitely for “intoxication and rank insubordination.” His record stood at 14-8. Over the winter, he weighed an offer to join Waco but in the end selected Peoria in February. After only two games he left the club. He also played a few games for Hamilton, Ohio. By May, he retired and returned to book binding; his career in baseball was over.
On August 18, 1893 Ed Dundon died from consumption, after a brief battle. He was buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Columbus.
Dundon’s minor league statistics were provided by Ray Nemec.
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Syracuse Herald, 1888
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