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Bob Motley

Ballplayers Wounded in Combat


Date and Place of Birth: March 11, 1923 Autaugaville, AL
Date and Place of Death:    September 14, 2017 Kansas City, MO
Baseball Experience: Negro League and Minor League
Position: Umpire
Rank: Unknown
Military Unit: US Marine Corps
Area Served: Pacific Theater of Operations

 Negro Baseball League Umpire, Robert C. "Bob" Motley, was born in Autaugaville, Alabama to sharecropping father William Motley and domestic working mother Eula Inez (née Parker). The sixth of eight children born to the union, his father died from tainted well water when Bob was only four years old. After his father’s death, the family moved to Anniston, Alabama where Bob spent his formative years.  

To help his family financially, Bob began working as a bellboy at the all-white Jefferson Davis Hotel when he was twelve years old. Dividing his time between school and work, Bob had little time for play but would soon discover a passion for sports, particularly baseball. Without the means to buy or access to equipment, Bob and his playmates made their own bats and balls by using tree limbs or broom handles for bats, and rocks wrapped with rags and strings for balls.  

Having endured enough discrimination in the Deep South, in 1940, at the age of seventeen, Bob boarded a freight train headed North, hoboing his way to Dayton, Ohio to live with his uncle Samuel Parker who had also escaped the South. He immediately found a job at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base reaming out bullet chambers on M1 Carbine rifles. Little did he know, he would soon be carrying one of these weapons into battle himself.  

As World War II raged on, Bob voluntarily enlisted into the Marine Corps on May 21, 1943. Unbeknownst to him at the time, he was making history becoming one of the country’s first black Marines known as the Montford Point Marines. Battling in the South Pacific, Motley helped invade Saipan, Tinian, Okinawa and Guam. During a hard- fought battle on the island of Okinawa, he suffered a gunshot to the foot and ended up in the military hospital.  

While recovering, fate intervened, and Motley would discover that his near-death injury had led him to discover what would become a lifelong passion, umpiring. Hearing a pick- up baseball game being played by distressed soldiers near the unit hospital, a wounded Motley hobbled over to the makeshift field and volunteered to umpire. Never having umpired before, calling balls and strikes was a natural fit for the healing soldier.   

Honorably discharged on February 1, 1946, and receiving a Purple Heart, Motley moved to Kansas City, Missouri which would be the place he would call home for over seventy years. Bob landed a job at General Motors assembly plant and worked for the auto company for 37 years.  

Starting in 1947, Motley began his journey umpiring in the Negro Leagues. He quickly developed a unique and animated style unlike any other umpire. Bob’s trademarks included, jumping high into the air to call a runner out on a close play, and, doing the splits low to the ground with his arms stretched wide open to signal a safe call. He made sure his bellows of “yer out” and “safe” were loud enough for everyone in the stadium to hear. Loved by the entertained crowd, Bob worked his way up through the ranks ultimately becoming Chief Umpire in the league. For a decade, Motley umpired games with legendary Black ballplayers including: Satchel Paige, Hilton Smith, Willie Mays, Goose Tatum, Ernie Banks, Buck O’Neil, Hank Aaron and the man he says was the greatest African-American ballplayer at that time, Hall of Famer Willard Brown. A career highlight was umpiring three Negro League East-West All Star games in Chicago’s Comiskey Park.  

In 1951, Bob married Edna Pearline (née Hayes) and the couple would have two children. With a growing family to support, Bob continued to follow his passion for umpiring, often getting a leave of absence from his job to go on the road with various Negro League teams.  

In 1957, Motley would continue to hone his umpiring craft by enrolling at the Al Somer Umpire School in Daytona Beach, Florida.  One of the first three African-Americans to attend the school, Motley graduated top of the class two years in a row. In August 1958, Motley accepted a position in the Pacific Coast League, AAA level baseball, one-tier below the majors. It was the first time in history that any umpire, black or white, had gone directly from umpire school into a high-ranking level in professional baseball.    

After two seasons on the west coast, Motley could see that integration into the majors was not going to come swiftly, so he opted not to renew his contract. Still not one to take no for an answer, he continually tried to break the Major Leagues color barrier for years, writing the commissioner and seeking the support of his white counterparts who had graduated beneath him in umpire school who had made it to the majors. Bob would never realize this dream for himself, but his campaign helped heighten the awareness of discrimination and paved the way for younger umpires of color who followed in his footsteps.   

In addition to umpiring in the Negro and Pacific Coast Leagues, Motley was a sought- after arbiter for several College World Series games throughout the 70s. He also officiated semi-pro, high school and college sports including basketball and football in and around the Kansas City area.   

In 2007, Motley penned his memoir Ruling Over Monarchs, Giants & Stars: True Tales of Breaking Barriers, Umpiring Baseball Legends, and Wild Adventures in the Negro Leagues, with his son Byron.  Later that year, “Bob Motley Day” was declared in his adopted hometown of Kansas City. And in June 2009, Motley was honored in his birth state of Alabama with an induction into the Calhoun County Sports Hall of Fame.   

Bob was a founding member of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City and the top season ticket seller for the Kansas City Royals Baseball Club for nearly 40 years.   

Honoring his pioneering achievement as a U.S. Marine, in 2012, Bob, and approximately 400 living Montford Point Marines, received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor for their World War II service in a celebration in Washington, DC.  

In a posthumous recognition, a life-style statue of Motley was added behind home plate to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museums’ “Field of Legends” in November 2017.   

Motley, Bob & Motley, Byron., Ruling Over Monarchs, Giants & Stars: True Tales of Breaking Barriers, Umpiring Baseball Legends, and Wild Adventures in the Negro Leagues, Skyhorse/Sports Publishing, 2007/2013.  
Kelly, Brent., I Will Never Forget, McFarland  & Company, 2003.
Heaphy, Leslie A., The Negro Leagues 1869-1960, McFarland & Company, 2003.  
Lester, Larry., Black Baseball National Showcase, University of Nebraska Press, 2001

Many thanks to Bob's son, Byron, for contributing this wonderful biography.

Date Added June 16, 2020

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