Has an umpire ever gotten this kind of love?
Bob Motley, 94, sat and listened to speaker after speaker praise the last living Negro Leagues umpire at a fundraising reception at JJ’s Restaurant on Tuesday.
They came to contribute to a fund that will pay for a sculpture of Motley by artist Kwan Wu. The bronze sculpture will be part of the Field of Legends at the Negro Leagues Museum.
“Everyone knows this is the right thing to do,” said U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. “The failure for us to do this would have been a monumental failure … to have somebody like you in our midst and not pay homage to you.”
From Royals legend and Jackson County executive Frank White: “It’s great to be able to honor someone while they’re still with us. It’s great for you to see the accomplishment of your lifelong work.”
After serving in World War II, Motley moved to Kansas City and his umpiring career began in earnest. He was the first black umpire in the Ban Johnson League and was soon in the Negro Leagues and started calling games that involved Satchel Paige, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.
Ten years into his career, Motley became the first black umpire to enroll in baseball’s umpiring school in Florida. In 1958, he called his first minor league game in the Pacific Coast League.
Motley has remained in Kansas City, and umpired baseball, officiated football and basketball. White recalled Motley calling his basketball games at Lincoln High in the late 1960s.