Still a city councilman a few years ago, Dick Davis wandered around the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s Field of Legends and became fascinated by an exhibit of longtime umpire Bob Motley.
Motley’s uniform was kept pristine in a glass enclosure on the wall next to the dugout. A classic photo of Motley jumping high into the air while calling someone out at a base sat next to his shoes.
Davis, who knew the late Motley from their time together with the Royal Lancers organization, looked over his shoulder onto the field. There was a statue of catcher Josh Gibson awaiting a pitch from Satchel Paige’s bronze likeness, and one of Martin Dihigo awaiting his at-bat. Behind a pane of glass at their backs was a statue of manager Buck O’Neil, standing in the lobby in what would have been the entrance to a dugout.
But there was no umpire to look over the action on the life-sized ballfield that opened in 1997 in this space in the 18th and Vine District.
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“I thought there ought to be an umpire out there,” Davis said, “and it should be Bob Motley.”
So Davis spearheaded efforts to put Motley, who died in September at the age of 94, in his rightful spot behind homeplate.
In the last year, with the help of current councilmembers Jermaine Reed and Dan Fowler, and a long list of other members and organizations in the community, Davis was able to raise enough to fund the project.
Within months of hitting the target this summer, a statue of a crouching Motley now sits next to Gibson on the field. The museum unveiled the installation of his bronze sculpture in a ceremony Wednesday night.
“(Sculptor Kwan Wu) is masterful,” museum president Bob Kendrick said. “When you look into the eyes of those statues, it’s like they speak to you. He is very in tune with what the story here is about.”
Wu, who was tasked with providing the original 12 statues installed in the museum and who has created statues of George Brett and Phog Allen, spent about five months casting and finishing the Motley piece with the help of several artists. He read Motley’s book, “Ruling Over Monarchs, Giants, and Stars,” in an effort to capture his personality.
“He’s an umpire, so I tried to make him very concentrated, doing his job like everyone else on the field,” Wu said.
Once done, it took four men to move the 300-pound bronze statue to its new home.
Before he died, Motley visited Wu’s studio in Olathe to get an early glimpse of the work. Byron Motley, Bob Motley’s son who co-wrote the book, said his father was impressed but he had never dreamed of joining the Negro Leagues legends in this way.
All he wanted was to preserve the league’s history and tradition.
“He never dreamed he’d be considered a living legend,” Byron Motley said to a crowd of approximately 150 people. “... Because of this statue, Bob Motley will live forever. Someone will always learn from him.”