Don Motley, Force Behind Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Dies At 89

Nov 21, 2016

Don Motley, who coached amateur baseball around Kansas City for decades and later in life became a driving force for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, died Sunday. He was 89. 

"Coach Motley, as he was affectionately known, gave nearly two decades of his illustrious life to help build the NLBM and guided it to unprecedented fiscal heights," Bob Kendrick, president of the museum, said in a statement. "His impact on the organization will be felt for generations to come."

Motley served as executive director for the museum from 1991 until he retired in 2008. 

Before his tenure at the NLBM, Motley was well-known around Kansas City as an amateur baseball coach. The Kansas City Star reports Motley became the first African-American coach in the American Legion and Ban Johnson Leagues in the 1950s. He coached the Milgram Mustangs for 41 years. 

Royals Hall of Famer and Jackson County Executive Frank White, who grew up playing amateur baseball in Kansas City, says Motley had a great impact on players like him. 

"You know, guys that came up in '68, '69, '70 like me, we looked up to those men like Motley," White said on KCUR's Up To Date Monday. "We knew what they had been through breaking color barriers for us."

White never played for Motley. He says Motley wanted him to be a pitcher, which didn't quite square with what White's own father wanted. Still, White says, Motley's influence was felt. 

"We had a running joke for years that I had missed out on the opportunity of playing for him, which I think I did. He wasn't just a teacher of baseball. He was a teacher in life."

Kendrick said that Motley, along with former Kansas City Monarchs great Buck O'Neil, were part of a "passionate few" who saw what the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum could become back in the early 1990s. 

"He was there from the very humble beginnings, when we had a little one-room office. And he was part of a group that took turns paying the monthly rent on that office. That gave us the hope and dream that we would one day build a museum," Kendrick said. 

Motley was remembered by others Monday, the day after his passing: 

Kendrick said that Motley, in recent years, was "distraught" over the decline of African-American participation in baseball at all levels, from amateur leagues to Major League Baseball. But Motley was excited about prospects for the MLB Urban Youth Baseball Academy, which broke ground near the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum earlier this year. 

"He remained very passionate about this sport and the opportunities it could bring for urban kids," he said. 

Services for Motley have not yet been announced. 

Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster. You can follow him @kcurkyle