EPISODE 131: Calling Balls & Strikes in Baseball’s Negro Leagues – With Byron Motley

Multi-talented singer-songwriter, photographer, and soon-to-be sports history documentarian Byron Motley joins the show this week to discuss his late father’s colorful career as an umpire in baseball’s legendary Negro Leagues – the subject of his 2007 collaborative oral history, Ruling Over Monarchs, Giants, and Stars.

A child of Depression-era rural Alabama, a teenaged Bob Motley migrated north in the early 1940s to his uncle’s home in Dayton, OH in search of work – and a tryout as a Negro League pitcher.  World War II intervened, and Motley was soon off to the front lines as one of the first African-Americans in the then-segregated (Montfort Point) Marines – receiving both a Purple Heart (shot in the foot during combat) and a Congressional Gold Medal of Honor for his service.

While recovering from his wounds, Motley caught wind of a baseball game outside his military hospital and volunteered to umpire – crutches and all.  Despite earning him an immediate trip back to the battlefield, it set the stage for his post-discharge career ambitions.

Relocated to Kansas City in 1946, Motley supplemented his day job at a local GM plant with persistent attempts to umpire games with KC’s fabled Monarchs, ultimately yielding a decade-long moonlighting career calling contests across the Negro Leagues.  Known for a flamboyant acrobatic style, Motley became nationally known as the most entertaining game-caller in the Negro majors – as much an attraction as the pioneering players and teams themselves.

Though a Major League call-up never came, Motley still broke barriers in Triple-A and NCAA ball, and was instrumental in helping usher in the eventual arrival of the first African-American umpire (his Pacific Coast League colleague Emmett Ashford) in 1966.  

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Ruling Over Monarchs, Giants & Stars - buy here

EPISODE #110: Cleveland’s Historic League Park – With Ken Krsolovic

Author Ken Krsolovic (League Park: Historic Home of Cleveland Baseball, 1891-1946) joins the podcast to go deep into the history and legacy of Cleveland’s first major league sports stadium.

Originally built for the National League’s Cleveland Spiders, team owner Frank Robison strategically built the wood-constructed League Park at the corner of Lexington Avenue and Dunham (now East 66th) Street in the city’s Hough neighborhood, where the streetcar line he owned conveniently stopped.  It debuted on 5/1/1891 with a Spiders 12-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, with the legendary Cy Young throwing the first pitch.  Despite being competitive during the decade (including a Temple Cup in 1895), the Spiders drew poorly, leading Robison to ship his best players to his new fledgling St. Louis Browns franchise in 1899 – and the Spiders to on-field (20-134) and off-field (6,088 fans for the season) collapse.

After a year of minor league play, League Park became the home of the Cleveland Bluebirds (aka Blues) of the new “major” American League in 1901 – the team that would ultimately evolve (1902: Broncos; 1903-14: Naps) into today’s Cleveland Indians.  The park was rebuilt in 1910 as a then-state-of-the-art concrete-and-steel stadium, debuting on 4/21/1910 (a 5-0 Naps loss to the Detroit Tigers before 18,832) – a game also started by Cy Young.

Though the Indians were League Park’s primary team, they were not the only tenants over the stadium’s later decades.  In 1914-15, the Naps/Indians shared the stadium with the minor league Cleveland Bearcats/Spiders (actually, the temporarily relocated minor league Toledo Mud Hens) to discourage the upstart Federal League from placing a franchise in Cleveland.  The Negro American League’s Cleveland Buckeyes held court at the park during much of the 1940s – including a Negro World Series title in 1945. 

And the fledgling sport of professional football also called League Park home during the NFL’s formative 1920s in the forms of the Cleveland Tigers (1920-22), Indians (1923), Bulldogs (1924-27) – and most famously with the Cleveland Rams of the late 1930s/early 1940s.

Like the Rams, the baseball Indians began moonlighting games and eventually full seasons with the larger, more modern (and lighted) Municipal Stadium during the WWII and post-war eras – ultimately sealing the venerable League Park’s fate by 1946. 

After years of neglect and urbanization, a modern restoration of League Park and its original ticket house was completed in 2014, where fans can now play on the original field where Cleveland’s pro players once roamed.

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League Park: Historic Home of Cleveland Baseball 1891-1946 - buy here

 

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EPISODE #13: Author Bill Young & the Legacy of J.L. Wilkinson's Kansas City Monarchs

Religious studies professor-turned-baseball-historian Bill Young (J.L. Wilkinson & the Kansas City Monarchs: Trailblazers in Black Baseball) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss the life and legacy of one of baseball’s most overlooked and underappreciated executive figures.  Young recalls the photograph at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City that inspired him to pursue the telling of Wilkinson’s story, and describes how the quiet-yet-influential pioneer affectionately known as “Wilkie”: built one of the Negro Leagues’ most formidable franchises from modest Midwestern barnstorming beginnings; ingeniously kept his club relevant during lean Depression-era times through innovations such as portable night-time lighting; and nurtured a stunning array of all-star players that transcended both Negro and Major league rosters – 11 of whom were ultimately enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  This week’s episode is sponsored by our friends at Audible!

J.L. Wilkinson & the Kansas City Monarchs: Trailblazers in Black Baseball - buy book here