SABR

Fred Beene

This article was written by Todd Newville and Mark Armour.

Fred Beene proved that big things can come in small packages. Affectionately known as Beeney throughout much of his professional baseball career, the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Beene defied skeptics who thought he was too small to succeed on a major-league mound. At times the criticism of his physical attributes proved frustrating for the slick-fielding right-hander who possessed a crafty assortment of pitches. Because he wanted to play in the big leagues so badly, Beene paid no attention to what some thought of his stature. He knew he could pitch in the majors, and so did his father.

“I was small and I had to battle all those perceptions about my size,” said Beene. “I always heard that I was too little to pitch in the big leagues. I did have talent, but because of my size, I couldn’t be lacking in other areas. Having perseverance and not giving up helped me get to the big leagues. What my dad taught me and having pride in what I did helped me to become a major-league pitcher.”1

Freddy Ray Beene was born on November 24, 1942, in Angleton, Texas, about 50 miles south of Houston near the Gulf of Mexico, to William Andrew Beene and the former Inez Fay Steadman. Fred had one sister, Lena, who was three years his junior. “My dad was my biggest influence,” Beene said in an interview in 2005. He never pitched an inning anywhere except in a cow pasture. He was a farmboy who just loved baseball. He taught me about pitching inside and changing speeds and location. That’s what pitching is all about and he preached that to me. I threw a perfect game when I was 10 years old. I didn’t walk a guy and I struck out all 18 hitters.”2

After high school Beene played collegiate baseball for Sam Houston State, where he helped propel his team to victory in the 1963 NAIA title game. Former major-league pitcher Burleigh Grimes and Dee Phillips were responsible for signing Beene to his first pro contract with the Baltimore Orioles. “Burleigh was in the room when I signed at a Holiday Inn in Joplin, Missouri, after the national tournament,” Beene recalled. “Burleigh said if I were bigger, I could get more money. That talk was already starting. But Dee knew me and he scouted me. He knew what kind of athlete and competitor I was. He wanted me pretty bad. And Burleigh told me a lot of good things that day.”3

Beene began his professional career in 1964 with Fox Cities in Appleton (Wisconsin) of the Single-A Midwest League. There, the diminutive righty forged an impressive 11-5 record in his pro debut along with a sparkling 2.22 earned-run average and 102 strikeouts in just 77 innings of work. In 1965 Beene continued to excel, at the Double-A level. He fashioned a 7-7 record for Elmira (New York) of the Eastern League along with a 2.25 ERA and 99 whiffs in 132 innings. He worked a league-leading 62 games for manager Earl Weaver that campaign – none more grueling and demanding than on May 8 against Springfield in front of just 386 fans. Beene entered the scoreless game in the top of the 16th, and pitched 12 innings to pick up the 2-1 victory. He allowed a run in the 26th, but Elmira tied it up in the bottom of the inning and won it in the following inning. At the time this was the longest game in professional baseball history.

In 1966 Beene returned to Elmira and finished 10-12 with a 2.16 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 150 innings. Late that season he advanced to Triple-A Rochester, where he went 2-1 in four contests with a 2.57 ERA. In 1967 Beene finished 2-1 in 12 games for Elmira, with a minuscule 1.67 ERA before again advancing to Rochester, where he was 5-1 with a 2.95 ERA in 22 outings. The Orioles system was filled with young pitching prospects, and Beene was having difficulty standing out despite his success.

In 1968 he returned to Rochester and put up an 8-7 record with a 2.68 ERA in 48 games at Rochester. On September 18 the 25-year-old finally made his major-league debut in the Orioles’ 4-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Beene surrendered two hits, one walk, and one earned run while striking out one. It was his only inning of big-league action that season. Red Sox third baseman Joe Foy was Beene’s first major-league strikeout victim.

In 1969 Beene joined Rochester for the fourth time, fashioning an impressive 15-7 record with a 2.98 ERA and 132 strikeouts in a league-leading 193 innings. He walked just 47 hitters. At the end of the minor-league campaign, Beene was again called up to Baltimore. In two contests, against Boston and Cleveland, Beene didn’t allow an earned run. As a late call-up, Beene was not on the Baltimore roster for the World Series, which the Orioles took from the Cincinnati Reds in five games. After an off-season in Puerto Rico in which he threw a no-hitter for Santurce, Beene went back to Rochester in 1970 and finished 9-3 with a 3.20 ERA in 13 games. He got more late-season action with the Orioles, getting into four games. Beene was certainly one of Baltimore’s best pitching prospects.

Beene was in a professional bind. Though he had dominated minor-league hitters for several years, he was pitching in an organization with a historically strong pitching staff. The Orioles won three straight pennants beginning in 1969, and had three 20-game winners in 1971 while using a four-man rotation. The Orioles had little use for Beene’s talents. “I was with the Baltimore organization for eight years,” Beene said. “I was one of their top guys to be called up but there weren’t many chances for me. Earl Weaver liked the older, veteran players. The Orioles were a good team and they dominated during that time. There just wasn’t room for me.”4

“[General manager] Harry Dalton was a good guy. He called me into his office after the [1970] season and said he would trade me if they could get a good deal for me. He realized I had a tough fight and probably deserved to be in the big leagues. It just wasn’t happening for me in Baltimore. He said if they could trade me to another club, they were going to do it.”5 True to Dalton’s word, in December Baltimore sent Beene, fellow pitchers Tom Phoebus and Al Severinsen, and shortstop Enzo Hernandez to the San Diego Padres for pitchers Pat Dobson and Tom Dukes.

Just before the trade, Beene had gone back to Puerto Rico to play winter ball. “On Opening Night, I blew out my elbow,” he said. “I threw a slider to Ken Singleton and I thought I had (broken) my arm. Something snapped and the doctor in Puerto Rico said I might not pitch again. But I went to Baltimore and got an American doctor to look at me. The day I went to Baltimore to have my arm examined, they made the trade.”6 When Beene’s arm did not improve after a short stint with San Diego’s Pacific Coast League farm team in Honolulu, the Padres sent him back to Baltimore on May 16, 1971. He returned to pitch for Dallas-Fort Worth in the Texas League and went 2-2 with a 2.06 ERA in five games. He later returned to Rochester, where he was 7-1 with a 4.44 ERA. Beene showed he still had command of the strike zone, walking just 35 batters in 108 innings for the two teams while surrendering 107 hits.

“I went to Rochester to heal up,” Beene said, “and I finally got some good news.” On January 19, 1972, the Orioles traded Beene for the second time, to the New York Yankees for minor leaguer Dale Spier. “Pete Ward was a coach at Rochester at the time,” Beene said. “He recommended to the Yankees that they trade for me – on the sly, of course, since he was still working for the Orioles. I was very happy they traded me because I thought that I might be through at that point.”7

That spring Beene was intent on making the major-league roster, and wowed the Yankee organization. “When I got to spring training,” he recalled, “they had about five sore-armed pitchers. I had been pitching in Puerto Rico over the winter and I was in pretty good shape. I got into the first exhibition game that spring and I was mowing them down pretty good for about six outings with the Yankees. (Manager) Ralph Houk called me into his office and said I had made the club. … I was finally one of the main 25 guys out of spring (training). I wasn’t just waiting to be called up later in September. What a feeling it was!”8

Beene had a fine rookie season, finishing 1-3 with a 2.34 ERA and three saves in 29 games. In 1973 he did even better – he fashioned a perfect 6-0 record along with a microscopic 1.68 ERA in 19 games. He walked just 27 and yielded only 67 hits in 91 innings while striking out 49. Opposing batters hit just .209 against Beene, who helped anchor a solid bullpen that also featured Lindy McDaniel (12-6, 2.86 ERA) and closer Sparky Lyle (27 saves, 2.51 ERA). “I thought the DH would ruin me in 1973 since you don’t need as many pitchers on a team,” said Beene, referring to the introduction of the designated hitter in the American League that season. “But it actually worked to my benefit because I became one of the first long relievers in the game. It was a new niche for a lot of pitchers.”9

Just when Beene thought he had finally established himself, he received a professional setback. On April 26, 1974, the Yankees, who were in their fallow period
between dynasties and had just been taken over by George Steinbrenner the year before, dealt four pitchers—Beene, Tom Buskey, Steve Kline, and Fritz Peterson—to the Cleveland Indians for first baseman Chris Chambliss and pitchers Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw. “To say the least, the clubhouse was in an uproar,” Beene said. “They traded four good ol’ boys from the club and broke up the party. Guys were upset and didn’t leave the clubhouse until well after midnight.”10

“You don’t trade four pitchers,” veteran pitcher Mel Stottlemyre said at the time. “You just don’t.” Catcher Thurman Munson said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” The trade shocked and angered players and fans alike. Former catcher and Yankee coach Elston Howard was especially vociferous in his opinion of the deal.11

For Beene, the trade was particularly traumatic. “I was leaving a place where my role had been established,” he said. “I had a spot and I felt secure with the Yankees. It had taken me a long and trying time to finally make it to the big leagues. I felt like I was a very important part of that Yankee pitching staff. One of the keys to being successful in the major leagues is to function in the role that you are best suited for. I had established that with the Yankees.”12

Before the trade, Beene had appeared in six games for New York with one save and a 2.70 ERA. After going to Cleveland, he was 4-4 with two saves and a 4.93 ERA in 32 games. In 1975 Beene’s pitching arm bothered him again, leading to 62 days on the disabled list and just a 1-0 record with a 6.94 ERA in 19 games.

As it turned out, 1975 was the last time he pitched in the majors. He spent a year and a half with Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate in Toledo, finishing 7-9 and 5-10 as a starting pitcher. In July 1977 he was sold to Philadelphia, and he spent the rest of that year and all of the next two seasons with the Phillies’ Oklahoma City club, finishing 2-2, 12-5, and 10-5. The 1979 club won the American Association pennant, after which Beene chose to retire.

“That last game in Oklahoma City against Evansville was my last game as a pitcher,” Beene said. “I remember that pretty well. I went about four innings and didn’t pitch too good. I knew those last three or four years in the minors that I was possibly a game away from being done for good. I had so many physical problems. I really wanted to pitch well, but I struggled and I was defensive out there on the mound. So I hung it up.”13

After retiring as a player, Beene became the pitching coach for the Tidewater Tides in the International League, the top minor-league franchise of the New York Mets. After that he scouted for the Milwaukee Brewers before finally retiring from baseball in 2001. “After scouting for 20 years,” Beene said, “I determined the biggest factors in a prospect are his ability to adapt and his perseverance. It’s not always the talent.” 14

In 1982 Beene signed a 6-foot-3, 215-pound pitcher from Brownwood, Texas, who played for Ranger Junior College. By the age of 25, that prospect had hurt his arm and was out of pro ball, opting instead to settle down, raise a family, and coach high-school baseball near his home in Big Lake, Texas. Ten years later, on September 18, 1999, Jim Morris made his major-league debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a story Morris later turned into a book and a movie.

Though Beene spent 16 years playing professional baseball, he remembers most fondly the two years and one month he pitched for the Yankees—years that resulted in a 7-3 record and 1.99 ERA in 158 innings. He often sees Fritz Peterson, Sparky Lyle, Mel Stottlemyre, and others at autograph shows or reunions. His days in the minors also evoke positive memories for Beene. “Rochester is king of minor-league cities,” he said. “They put me in their Hall of Fame. That’s one of the biggest honors I ever received. They thought of me as the little guy and their battle hero. I really liked it there in Rochester and I appreciate that recognition because I did give my heart and soul to that city while trying to make it to Baltimore.”15 Beene won 46 games for Rochester over parts of six seasons.

Beene and his wife, Carolyn, raised two children, Darrell and Monica, and retired to a two-acre place about 15 miles east of Huntsville, Texas. “My wife is the church secretary,” Beene said, “and we travel a great deal with them. We’ve been on about 10 cruises the last couple of years. We’ve been to Europe, Australia, and everywhere just about.”16 Beene also enjoyed deep-sea fishing in the nearby Gulf of Mexico. He and his son, Darrell, also operate several retail warehouses that sell fireworks.

Fred Beene had two obstacles to overcome to make it as a professional pitcher: his height and the wealth of fellow pitchers in the Baltimore organization. He overcame both to pitch 112 games in the major leagues and pick up a lifetime’s worth of memories.

 

Author's note

This article is largely based on a short biography, titled “Beeney!”, that Todd Newville wrote at http://www.baseballtoddsdugout.com/fredbeene2.html. That story was based on a series of interviews Todd conducted with Beene in 2005.

 

Notes

1 Fred Beene, interview with Todd Newville, June 2005.

2 Beene, interview.

3 Beene, interview.

4 Beene, interview.

5 Beene, interview.

6 Beene, interview.

7 Beene, interview.

8 Beene, interview.

9 Beene, interview.

10 Beene, interview.

11 Phil Pepe, “Gabe Defends Hefty Outlay Of Talent to Get Chambliss,” May 18, 1974, 5.

12 Beene, interview.

13 Beene, interview.

14 Beene, interview.

15 Beene, interview.

16 Beene, interview.

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