​​Local umpires awarded at inaugural Jimmy Lee Awards

Duane Reed holding his plaque
Photo by Charles Hallman

Veteran local baseball official Duane Reed is one of seven recipients of the first-ever Jimmy Lee Umpire Awards given by the St. Paul Saints. Each honoree was handed a plaque with Lee’s likeness on it during a pre-game on-field ceremony on August 9.

Reed was one of two umpire winners named as most dedicated—the other awards were lifetime achievement in umpiring, rookie umpire of the year, young umpire of the year, and most improved umpire.

“I want to dedicate this award to my mom who passed away today,” Reed said while holding his new honor. “I love baseball,” he added.

The inaugural Jimmy Lee Umpire Awards is named for St. Paul legend Jimmy Lee (1905-1979). He played on several Black baseball teams in the 1920s and ’30s and wrote a weekly golf column in the Minneapolis Spokesman, which later turned into a regular weekly sports column for over a decade. 

The Vicksburg, Miss. native moved to St. Paul as a 23-year-old and worked at a bank.

Lee later became an umpire and was the first Black hired to do Big Ten baseball games at the University of Minnesota. He also worked college and high school basketball games in the Midwest, including nearly 30 Minnesota high school basketball tournaments.  

He became an inductee in the Minnesota High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame (1972), Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame (1982), and Minnesota State High School League Hall of Fame (2013).

The St. Paul City Council in 1980 unanimously voted to rename Oxford Recreation Center the Jimmy Lee Recreation Center, located near the city’s Midway area.

Last week’s awards were the second of two nights the Saints, promoting Major League Baseball’s The Nine initiative, introduced this season. 

The first evening event was May 3 when the Saints players wore Negro Leagues uniforms on “Larry Doby Passion for The Community Day,” an annual event when the first Black player in the American League is honored by the team.

The Nine is a new Black community-focused outreach platform specifically designed to honor and celebrate Blacks’ historic impact on baseball, provide new opportunities for youth baseball and softball participation, and other things throughout Minor League Baseball’s 120 communities nationwide. 

This program is something the Saints have been doing for several years now.

“What we appreciate about the relationship with Major League Baseball and The Nine initiative,” noted St. Paul Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Derek Sharrer, “is that they’re taking the stories that we tell here locally, and they’re amplifying them on a national level.”

“We know St. Paul has the best baseball stories of any city in the United States,” Sharrer said proudly. “That’s why we call it ‘The City of Baseball.’ So, The Nine initiative gives us an opportunity to take our stories and make them even nationally known.”

Finally, when asked if there are any plans to expand The Nine’s activities beyond two games next season, Sharrer said, “We’ll see. We definitely will take a look at what we’re already started.

“We play 75 home games now so there are more opportunities to tell more stories. I think it’s what we have here is an opportunity to tell stories that have been left untold,” he concluded.