Multi-talented singer-songwriter, photographer, and soon-to-be sports history documentarian Byron Motley joins the show this week to discuss his late father’s colorful career as an umpire in baseball’s legendary Negro Leagues – the subject of his 2007 collaborative oral history, Ruling Over Monarchs, Giants, and Stars.
A child of Depression-era rural Alabama, a teenaged Bob Motley migrated north in the early 1940s to his uncle’s home in Dayton, OH in search of work – and a tryout as a Negro League pitcher. World War II intervened, and Motley was soon off to the front lines as one of the first African-Americans in the then-segregated (Montfort Point) Marines – receiving both a Purple Heart (shot in the foot during combat) and a Congressional Gold Medal of Honor for his service.
While recovering from his wounds, Motley caught wind of a baseball game outside his military hospital and volunteered to umpire – crutches and all. Despite earning him an immediate trip back to the battlefield, it set the stage for his post-discharge career ambitions.
Relocated to Kansas City in 1946, Motley supplemented his day job at a local GM plant with persistent attempts to umpire games with KC’s fabled Monarchs, ultimately yielding a decade-long moonlighting career calling contests across the Negro Leagues. Known for a flamboyant acrobatic style, Motley became nationally known as the most entertaining game-caller in the Negro majors – as much an attraction as the pioneering players and teams themselves.
Though a Major League call-up never came, Motley still broke barriers in Triple-A and NCAA ball, and was instrumental in helping usher in the eventual arrival of the first African-American umpire (his Pacific Coast League colleague Emmett Ashford) in 1966.
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