Paving the way

Feb 072007
Authors: Anica Wong

Byron Motley began the evening the same way he and his father began their book.

“I wish you could have seen all that I have seen,” he said.

Motley is referring to the baseball glory days of his father, Bob Motley, the oldest living umpire of the Negro Baseball League.

Byron was in Lory Student Center on Wednesday night to talk about the league as part of Black History Month.

“My father had a unique and outrageous way of umpiring,” he said.

Fans of 40s baseball came to the field not only to see the athletes play, but to watch Bob’s outrageous antics. So off-the-wall, in fact, were his actions that Byron often hid in the ballparks when his father umpired a game because he was embarrassed of the way his dad behaved.

What came naturally to Bob behind the plate entertained the masses and filled the pages of his autobiography, “Ruling Over Monarchs, Giants & Stars.”

“Nothing compares to the sound of an oncoming Satchel fastball,” Bob wrote of the infamous Satchel Paige.

Beyond the fun times and fond memories, Bob witnessed first hand the events of the Negro Baseball League that helped to make baseball into what it is today.

The Kansas City Monarchs, the most dominant team in the NBL, was the first to ever play a night game. The team’s manager came up with the idea to put trusses up around the park with gas-lit lights to illuminate the field so people who worked during the day could watch a game during the evening.

The NBL also pioneered world travel throughout the league, promoting the first team trip to Japan. Black players were the first to wear batting helmets, as Willie Wells was tired of getting hit in the head with a pitch. He added this piece of equipment to what is now standard in the majors when he wore an old coal miner’s hat to the plate.

“These men paved the way for all of us,” Byron said. “They played for the love of the game.”

As it turned out, some of the way was paved by women. Connie Morgan, Toni Stone and Mamie “Peanut” Johnson all played for different teams in the league.

Another “great” to come out of the league was Jackie Robinson, a member of the Kansas City Monarchs before he was called up to the major leagues.

“Jackie was chosen with a purpose,” Byron said. “They knew he was the right man for the job.”

The job included taking the brunt of racism and inequality as a minority in the limelight. Robinson’s experiences were a reflection of the American society. He was often called names, spit on or hit with balls because he was black.

“They didn’t like the idea of a black man playing alongside white men,” Byron said.

Leroy “Satchel” Paige, the highest paid baseball player (both in the Negro League and in the Major League), Josh Gibson, the home run slugger and James “Cool Papa” Bell, the player that could run the bases in 12 seconds, all came out of the NBL.

Unfortunately, the league didn’t keep record books.

“A lot of history was lost. After a game was played, it was played,” Byron said. “There’s no telling what these guys could have done if things were different.”

Mike Morrison, a Fort Collins resident and baseball fanatic, said he enjoyed Byron’s presentation.

“I love baseball. It was nice to hear a different point of view, a different voice.”

Bob Motley concluded his novel on a similar note: “The sands of time have labeled us as trailblazers, and so much more. And you know what? That’s all right with me.”

Staff writer Anica Wong can be reached at

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