Umpiring pioneer Bob Motley dies at age 94
Bob Motley, a pioneering umpire, has died.
Motley died on Thursday at age 94, according to his son, Byron.
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, calling games that involved Satchel Paige, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.
“He lived a full life, an honest live,” Byron Motley said. “He lived a ‘Never give up,’ mantra.”
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 had remained in Kansas City, umpiring local baseball games and officiating for football and basketball. Royals legend Frank White recalled Motley calling his basketball games at Lincoln High in the late 1960s.
Motley was born in Alabama, the sixth of eight children to a sharecropper and his wife. He was living in Dayton, Ohio, when he enlisted with Marines in 1943. He received a Purple Heart after taking a bullet in the foot in Okinawa.
Motley was among the Montford Point Marines, the Marines’ only all-black combat unit. They trained at Camp Monford Point in Jacksonville, N.C.
His unit was in the third wave to storm the island. The first two were wiped out.
“I went in on the third wave or else I wouldn’t be talking to you today,” Motley said in a 2012 interview.
Motley was recovering from his injury when he worked his first game. He heard a softball game being played outside his hospital room and, on crutches, hobbled over to watch. He couldn’t play, but he could call balls and strikes. The players liked his style, and he’d soon spend more time as an umpire.
Motley came to Kansas City after his discharge, umpiring his first Ban Johnson summer-league game in 1947 and first Negro Leagues game in 1948. He was paid $5 per game.
He was the chief umpire for the 1973 College World Series, and in 1979 was called to umpire in the major leagues … but only as a replacement for striking umpires. Motley turned down the offer, saying he wouldn’t cross the picket line.
In 1990, Motley helped start the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum with Bob Kendrick.
Earlier this year, Motley attended a fund-raiser for a statue of him. A bronze sculpture of Motley in action will be part of the Field of Legends at the museum, with an unveiling scheduled for November.
Motley wrote his life story, with son Byron, in a book published in 2012 — “Ruling over Monarchs, Giants and Stars: True Tales of Breaking Barriers, Umpiring Baseball Legends and Wild Adventures in the Negro Leagues.”
Funeral plans for Motley are pending.