A true Canadian baseball pioneer, Knotty Lee devoted close to 50 years to the game as a player, manager, scout and league organizer. The Toronto native earned his nickname when his father noticed his spitball twisting and knotting towards home plate. Starting in 1896, Lee excelled as a left-handed hurler with the Toronto Athletic Club. He would also play in the New York State League (1899 to 1901), the New England League (1902 to 1906) and the Empire State League (1907).
In 1911, the determined Canuck was the architect of the Canadian League, the first professional baseball circuit in his country’s history. He would manage teams in Hamilton (1911 to 1913), Toronto (1914) and Guelph (1915) in that seminal circuit. In 1919, he would organize the Class B Michigan-Ontario League, where he was the fiery dugout boss with Brantford (1919, 1920) and London (1925). In 1921 and 1922, he served as business manager for the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. During this time, he also marketed his own brand of baseball glove called the “Knotty Lee Special.”
After managing three teams in the New England League and serving as the president of the Class D London Tecumsehs, Lee helped create the Canadian-American League (Can-Am League) in 1936. This league’s initial incarnation consisted of teams from Eastern Ontario and northern New York and operated for 13 seasons, helping to hone the skills of major leaguers like Bob Lemon, Al Rosen and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Dick Fowler. On top of his roles as manager and organizer, Lee also scouted for the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia A’s for over 20 years.