SABR

Joe Bean

This article was written by Bill Lamb.

A turn-of-the-century minor-league standout, Joe Bean was among those auditioned at shortstop by the pre-McGraw New York Giants. Sadly, Bean failed to impress, his hitting and fielding being deemed below big-league caliber. After appearing in 50 games, Bean was released by New York in late June of 1902. Thus came to its close the brief major-league career of Joe Bean. But this was largely a matter of Bean’s own choosing, as other major-league teams later took interest in him. Both the National League Boston Beaneaters (1903) and the American League Washington Senators (1906) attempted to secure Bean’s services via the postseason minor-league draft. Each time, Bean declined to report, preferring to remain in a congenial situation that he then had with the Jersey City Skeeters of the Class A Eastern League.

Such independence of action was characteristic of Joe Bean. He played major-league baseball only when he thought it was to his advantage. His tenure as a big leaguer would, therefore, be abbreviated, forming just a small part of a working life immersed in athletics. Sharp-minded and a ceaseless worker, Bean compiled a résumé that included stints as a physical education instructor, athletic trainer, track-meet official, basketball referee, boxing promoter, multi-sport coach, and athletic-club administrator, much of which he did in and around his adopted hometown of Atlanta. Indeed, by the time of an elderly Joe Bean’s passing in 1961, his major-league baseball career was pretty much forgotten. To Atlantans, Bean was revered as mentor to a host of local prep school, collegiate, and amateur athletes, and as the man who had introduced top-notch basketball play to the South.

Joseph William Bean was born in Boston on March 18, 1874, the third of four surviving children born to cabinetmaker William Bean (born c.1836) and his wife, the former Catherine Jenkins (1841-1897).1 Joe’s parents were Irish-Catholic immigrants who met in Boston and married in 1865. When Joe was a boy, the Bean family moved to nearby Cambridge, where Joe attended class through his high-school graduation from St. Mary’s Academy. Thereafter, he took some course work at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Boston, but never earned a degree.2 While still a youngster, Joe began playing ball in neighborhood sandlots and for the Cambridge YMCA team.3 Small and wiry (5-feet-8, and only 138 pounds), the right-handed Bean was a flashy, if erratic, fielding shortstop; a deft bunter, and a speedy baserunner. In time, Bean’s play attracted the notice of area professionals, including minor-league manager Walter Burnham. In early 1895 Burnham signed Bean for the Augusta (Maine) Kennebecs, a new entry in the Class B New England League.4 Playing for a (44-64) last-place club, Bean made a good first impression, batting .295. His .855 fielding average, however, left room for improvement.5 The following season, Bean improved his fielding (.862), but his batting average slipped to .259. Still, Bean led the club in stolen bases (48) and runs scored (91), all to little avail. Augusta posted a dismal 35-68 log, and the franchise folded at season’s end.

In the offseason, Bean embarked upon the complementary career path that would lead to his broader athletic destiny. He found a job as an assistant physical-training instructor at a Cambridgeport gymnasium owned by St. Mary’s Church, a bustling establishment known to locals as Father Scully’s Gym. The gym would serve as headquarters for Bean endeavors during the ensuing decade.6 In the short term, Joe found re-employment in the New England League, joining the Newport Colts for the 1897 campaign. Now 23 years old, Bean had a breakout year, batting .308 with 32 steals for the first-place (70-37) Colts.7 Bean’s chances for advancement to the majors found an ardent booster in Newport manager Mike Finn. “You will find Bean a corking good man, a good waiter, great base runner and fast, aggressive and gingery – always in the game,” Finn enthused. As for Bean’s subpar fielding marks, Finn explained that Bean “goes for everything and makes lots of errors as he is everywhere. The [fielding] averages … are of no value … [as] Bean had more accidents than any other man on our team on account of the many chances he takes.”8 Despite hometown anticipation that Bean would soon be a Beaneater, Boston passed on the opportunity to claim him,9 leaving Bean to the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, who signed him for the 1898 season.

That March Bean reported to the Brooklyn spring camp in Lakewood, New Jersey, and evidently showed enough during practice and exhibition game play to win a spot on the Bridegrooms’ roster. But once the regular season began, Bean remained glued to the bench, much to the consternation of the press back in Boston. “What in the world is Brooklyn thinking in not giving a show to young Joe Bean?” wondered the Boston Herald. “Bean is one of the most promising youngsters in the country, and no doubt could play all around [Fielder] Jones or [Candy] LaChance at short.”10 But Brooklyn skipper Billie Barnie did not agree, and in early May, Bean was sent back to Newport – without having made a single major-league game appearance. Thereafter, Brooklyn sold his contract outright to Rochester of the Eastern League.11 Playing for a last-place club, Bean hit a soft .239, with only 16 extra-base hits in 101 games.12

Under the direction of new manager Al Buckenberger, a reorganized Rochester club went from worst to first in the 1899 Eastern League pennant race. Among the keys to club success was the double-play combo of Joe Bean (.293) and future New York Giants teammate and manager George “Heinie” Smith (.290). Like others, however, Bean’s chance for advancement was stymied by the contraction of the formerly 12-team National League to an eight-club circuit for the 1900 season. Dozens of big-league roster spots disappeared, leaving Bean to content himself with another year of Eastern League play. One place where Bean was able to gain promotion was Father Scully’s Gym. Joe was appointed superintendent of the facility in December 1899, and spent the winter arranging track meets, basketball games, and other indoor sports activities.13

Bean did not return to Rochester for the 1900 season – at least, not immediately. Rather, he signed to play with an Eastern League rival, the Worcester Farmers. But things did not work out for Bean in Worcester, where he spent much of the time in the outfield or at third base. By August he had drawn his release.14 Within days, Bean was back in a Rochester uniform and promptly returned to form. He banged out two hits in each of his first two games with Rochester, and finished the campaign with a respectable .275 BA. The next year, Bean was even better, easily the Eastern League’s best shortstop. Playing in every one of Rochester’s 137 games, Joe batted .312, with 113 runs scored. He stole 39 bases. Joe was equally adept in the field, leading league shortstops in assists (464) and total chances (813), while finishing second in fielding average (.910).15 Paced by Bean and outfielder Billy Lush (.310, with 137 runs scored), Rochester (88-49) breezed to the league crown, nine games ahead of runner-up Toronto. In the offseason, Joe returned to his post at the Cambridgeport gymnasium, where serving as coach for the Tufts College indoor track team was added to his responsibilities.

The year 1902 was a momentous one in both the professional and personal life of Joe Bean. His standout performance on the diamond the previous season had made Bean a hot property, and speculation abounded regarding where he would spend the coming season. At first it was believed that Bean would return to Rochester to assume the post of manager, team captain, and shortstop.16 Soon thereafter, Bean was reportedly headed to St. Paul in the Western League.17 But the move foundered when St. Paul would not meet the hard-nosed Bean’s salary demands.18 With the 1902 campaign about to begin, Bean reluctantly re-signed with Rochester. But he was not to play for the Bronchos that season. Rather, on April 28, 1902, Joe Bean was at the Polo Grounds, making his major-league debut as shortstop for the New York Giants. In the estimation of the often Bean-hostile Worcester Daily Spy, Joe acquitted himself “brilliantly,” going 2-for-4 off Brooklyn right-hander Gene McCann. Bean also scored two runs and handled five chances in the field flawlessly, leading the Giants to a 9-3 victory.19 Upstate, the management of the Rochester Bronchos was less than enthralled by news of Bean’s debut. Several days thereafter, the club branded Bean a contract-jumper and secured a temporary injunction barring him from further play in a Giants uniform.20 The controversy was then settled via long-distance telephone negotiations, with a $1,500 check from Giants owner Andrew Freedman procuring Bean’s release from his Rochester contract.21

Unhappily, neither Bean nor the Giants maintained the level of play exhibited in his debut, and soon the club had sunk to the second division. New Yorkers, accustomed to the brilliant shortstop play of Hall of Famer George Davis,22 were particularly critical of his replacement. Doubtless feeling the pressure, Bean struggled at bat and in the field. Still, Joe’s play was not without highlights, including a ground-ball triple play that he initiated in the first inning of a game against the Phillies on May 26. True to form, the Giants lost the contest anyway, 4-1. When the Giants made a mid-June trip to Boston, friends from Cambridge presented Bean with “a fine gold watch” as a token of their esteem.23 New York then dropped a “poorly played game” to the Beaneaters, 6-3. Days later, the seventh-place (19-28) Giants presented Bean with something else: ten days’ notice of his release. Taking unseemly relish in the dismissal of Bean was the Worcester Daily Spy, which chortled that “from being a big bean, Joe has withered to a pea.”24 But to his credit, Bean played hard during his final days with the Giants, then shorthanded by injuries, earning the admiration of Sporting Life’s New York correspondent, William Koelsch. As lamented by Koelsch in dissecting Joe’s release, “Bean was expected to hit, but did not do so.”25 During his 50-game tryout, Bean had batted a disappointing .220, with no power whatever (only three extra-base hits and 5 RBIs). He had also underperformed in the field, posting a lackluster .880 fielding average, while committing 32 errors. In the end, Koelsch and other local pundits concluded that the now 28-year-old Bean simply was not a major league-caliber player.26

That judgment did little to deter minor-league suitors for Bean’s services after his release. The infielder was particularly coveted by Eastern League clubs, with Newark and Jersey City in active pursuit.27 Joe, however, chose to sign with the Providence Grays, using the interest of the other clubs to leverage a contract that did not contain a reserve clause.28 The acquisition paid immediate dividends for Providence, with Bean hitting a blistering .423 in his first month with the club. By season’s end, his batting average stood at a career-high .339, making free agent Joe Bean once again a hot commodity, at least on the minor-league level. Rumor was rampant regarding Bean’s affiliation for the 1903 season, but Joe was temporarily preoccupied with matters of a personal nature. On November 26, 1902, Joe and Mary Helena (Lena) Balfe were united in matrimony, “a swell affair, followed by a reception at the home of the bride [in Cambridge], which was attended by over 300 friends of the young couple.”29 Their marriage would yield daughters Alma Louise (1903) and Mary Josephine (1915) and span the next 53 years.

While awaiting the start of the 1903 season, Joe attended to his duties as gym superintendent and college track coach. He also served as starter for the Boston Amateur Athletic games. As for baseball, Bean chose to accompany Providence manager Billy Murray to the rival Jersey City Skeeters, beginning a six-season association with the club. With team captain Bean turning in another fine season (.287 BA, with 44 steals and a league-leading 112 runs scored), Jersey City cruised to the Eastern League crown with a superb 92-33 (.736) mark. Trouble, however, was brewing on another front. The American and National Leagues had settled their bruising inter-circuit battle in January 1903, establishing a three-member National Commission to resolve future differences and maintain order in the game. The two majors then set about replenishing their player rosters via the wholesale draft of minor leaguers. Jersey City had seen the predation coming, and tried to retain its personnel by signing Bean and other key players to 1904 contracts while the 1903 season was still in progress.30 The maneuver had little deterrent effect. Pittsburgh, in need of backup infield help, drafted Bean. The draft pick was upheld by the National Commission, notwithstanding the vigorous protest of Jersey City’s lawyers that players under contract for the 1904 season (like Bean) were exempt from the draft.31

Although Bean had little chance of breaking into the starting infield (Kitty Bransfield, Claude Ritchey, Honus Wagner, and Tommy Leach) of the defending NL champions, he was excited by the prospect of playing for Pittsburgh. But over the winter, he heard nothing from the Pirates. As the 1904 season approached, the Pittsburgh brass concluded that utilityman Otto Krueger was sufficiently recovered from injury and placed Bean on waivers. Boston, managed by for former Bean mentor Al Buckenberger, promptly claimed Bean. But strangely, Joe wanted no part of the Beaneaters. He refused to sign a Boston contract and fled to Atlanta, where he worked out with the New York Highlanders while avoiding contact with Boston representatives. Notwithstanding official pronouncement that he had to play for Boston or not at all, Bean would not budge. “There is no bluff that I do not want to play for Boston this year,” said Joe. “I would like to secure my release and will make every effort to do so.”32 The parties remained stalemated for another month. Finally, Boston club president Arthur Soden threw in the towel, informing NL President Harry Pulliam that the Beaneaters relinquished all claim to Bean.33 With that, Joe was free to rejoin Jersey City.

Although he was unlikely to have appreciated it at the time, the contretemps with Boston would have a life-changing effect on Joe Bean. While spurning Beaneater entreaties in Atlanta, he made the acquaintance of Father John Edward Gunn, the founder of Marist College, an all-boys prep school recently established in Atlanta.34 Father Gunn engaged Joe to become overseer of Marist athletics in the baseball offseason, beginning an association with the school that would last for decades. But that was all in the future. For the present, Joe was focused upon his duties with the Jersey City Skeeters. But the 1904 season would prove an unhappy one for him. In late May, Bean was obliged to leave the club to minister to his wife, then seriously ill at home in Cambridge.35 Following her recovery, Joe himself ended up under doctors’ care, his collarbone fractured by a pop-fly collision with Skeeters outfielder George Merritt. Bean was finished for the season, and without their captain and sparkplug, the Jersey City limped home a (76-57) third-place finisher in EL standings. Of more long-term consequence, Bean’s throwing arm did not rebound. For the remainder of his playing career, Joe would try to compensate for his weakened arm by taking groundballs early and making quick throws to first, none of which enhanced his fielding performance.36

A solid (.291 BA) 1905 season was Bean’s last good year a player. That winter he coached the undefeated Cambridgeport Gym Association basketball team, officiated at Boston track meets, and then headed for Atlanta to take up his duties at Marist. The following year, the decline in Bean’s play was noticeable. In 125 games, he hit a meager .220, with but 11 extra-base hits, and his work in the field was unsteady. Still, the Washington Senators drafted Bean for the 1907 season.37 But Washington boss Joe Cantillon was persuaded to relinquish the claim, largely so that Bean might avail himself of a managerial opening with his present club. With Jersey City manager Billy Murray promoted to the helm of the Philadelphia Phillies, Joe assumed the post of Skeeters manager for the 1907 season, much to the approval of the Jersey City faithful.38 Bean embraced the job with characteristic energy, drilling his charges hard in preseason practice. They would have ample need of the steambox, stretching table, and other gymnasium equipment that manager Bean had installed in the clubhouse. But conditioning proved no substitute for playing ability, and the Jersey City squad was a mediocre one, particularly handicapped by the substandard infield play of a fading shortstop named Bean (.229 BA, with little power and shaky work in the field). The Skeeters were a middle-of-the pack 69-66 at season’s end.

Bean returned to pilot the Skeeters in 1908, but the club got off to a poor start. After a noncompetitive (10-1 and 4-0) doubleheader loss to Providence in late June, Joe resigned as manager. Club owner Robert Davis turned the managerial reins of the last-place (21-35) Skeeters over to former Jersey City pitcher Gene McCann, the same hurler whom Joe Bean had faced in his major-league debut six years earlier and with whom Bean had once had a clubhouse fight. But there were no hard feelings, as Bean remained team captain and shortstop for the remainder of the season. In February 1909 Jersey City gave Joe his unconditional release.39 At the time Bean was attending to his duties at Marist, but he still wanted to play. Southern Association teams in Atlanta and Little Rock were reportedly wooing Bean,40 but Joe chose to cast his lot with the St. Paul Apostles of the Western League, managed by his friend and erstwhile Augusta teammate Mike Kelley. Now 35 years old, Joe had little left, and drew his release in mid-May.41 Returning home to Cambridge, Bean put in a brief stint with the tail-end Lawrence Colts of the New England League, the circuit that had given him his pro-ball start some 14 years earlier. After batting .230 in 31 games with Lawrence, Joe hung up the glove and retired.

With his playing days now behind him, Bean looked for activities that would fill up his time, not to mention supply the income that he would need to support his family. He took a job scouting player talent for Boston, but the old hometown environs were losing their hold on Bean – particularly after Father Scully’s Gym was destroyed in a May 1909 fire. More and more, Atlanta beckoned. The Bean family made the permanent move to Atlanta in 1910, taking up residence not far from the Marist campus. For the next five decades, Joe Bean played an important part in the athletic affairs of his adopted home city, as well as those of the state of Georgia. Indeed, accounting for all the sports-related activity that Bean was involved in is a formidable task. Among other things, in 1910 he was appointed athletic director of the Atlanta Athletic Club, a home for amateur athletes that Bean would soon mold into the pre-eminent basketball power of the South.42 In 1914 he assumed command of the basketball program at the University of Georgia, balancing duties in Athens with his continuing responsibilities as athletic director at both Marist and the Atlanta AC. In three seasons at the university, Bean’s teams went 33-16-1, bringing home the unofficial 1914 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) title. In the summer, he served as supervisor of Atlanta’s public playgrounds.43 After leaving the University of Georgia, Bean took over as head baseball coach at Georgia Tech, winning a SIAA crown in 1920 with a 16-2 Yellow Jackets squad. He also served as an assistant basketball coach at Tech. At times a typical winter weekday for Bean had him supervising the practice of the Marist cagers at 2:00 P.M., the Georgia Tech team two hours thereafter, and the Atlanta AC squad at 6:00. At various points, Bean also somehow managed to find the time to coach a slick semipro outfit, the Progressive Jewish Club, and the women’s basketball teams at Fulton High School and Draughton’s Business College.

Coaching basketball, however, was far from Bean’s only pursuit. At Marist he was in charge of everything: baseball, football, track, and gymnastics, as well as basketball.44 In addition, Bean founded the City Prep League of Atlanta, the all-sports conference that Marist played in. Later in the 1920s, he established Camp Marist, a summer retreat for Atlanta youth in the hills of northern Georgia. Joe kept up the same frenetic pace at the Atlanta AC. In addition to guiding the Atlanta AC cagers, a third-place finisher in the National AAU tourney of 1921, he provided both group and individual physical training to club members -- male, female, and children alike. Joe also served as club swimming instructor. During the Depression, he even promoted prizefights at the club.45 Meanwhile, at the tony East Lake Country Club, an adjunct facility of the Atlanta AC, Bean was in charge of swimming, handball, squash, and the club’s competitive badminton team.46

In the little personal time that he had, Bean lived with his wife and two unmarried daughters in Atlanta. And slowly over the years, he gave up his various posts. He left Marist in 1932, but remained on the job at the Atlanta AC until 1951, retiring at the age of 77. Apart from the death of wife Lena in 1955, Joe’s golden years were good ones, his spirits buoyed by the many testimonials held in his honor. In 1958 he was inducted into the Georgia Prep School Hall of Fame, and was feted for “Outstanding Achievement and Service to Basketball at Marist College” at the inaugural Atlanta Tip-Off banquet that same year. Spry and active almost to the end, Joe Bean died quietly in his sleep on February 15, 1961. He was 86. As news of Bean’s passing circulated around Atlanta, tributes poured in, with Atlanta Constitution sportswriter Charley Roberts describing Bean as “perhaps the most remarkable pioneer and builder of sports in Georgia’s history.”47 After a Funeral Mass at Sacred Heart Church, he was interred at Westview Cemetery in Atlanta. Survivors included daughters Alma and Mary, and his younger sister Catherine Bean Ryan of Randolph, Massachusetts. Although his major-league baseball career consisted of a mere 50 games, Joe Bean had left his mark on the sporting world.

 

Notes

1 Sources for this biography include the Joe Bean file with questionnaire maintained at the Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York; family background accessed via Ancestry.com, and newspaper reportage on the long Bean athletic career. Unless otherwise noted, statistics are taken from Baseball-Reference and The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, eds. (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, Inc, 2nd edition, 1997). Joe’s siblings were Mary (born 1866), Annie (1868), and Catherine (1876). Another brother named Edward (born 1869) did not survive infancy.

2 As per the highly detailed player questionnaire completed by daughter Alma Louise Bean in 1963.

3 See Boston Journal, September 18, 1897.

4 Augusta manager Walter W. Burnham is not to be confused with former major-league manager and umpire George Walter “Watch” Burnham (1860-1902).

5 As per the Boston Herald, September 28, 1896. Baseball-Reference provides only Bean’s 1895 fielding stats.

6 The pastor of St. Mary’s was the Rev. Thomas F. Scully. Joe Bean would remain in the off-baseball season employ of Father Scully’s Gym until the building was destroyed in a May 1909 fire.

7 The Brockton Shoemakers posted an identical 70-37 record, but there was no playoff to determine the New England League champion for 1897.

8 As quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, March 4, 1898.

9 According to the Cincinnati Post, September 10, 1897. A local report that Boston had signed Bean proved unfounded. See Boston Journal, September 18, 1897.

10 Boston Herald, April 26, 1898.

11 See the Pawtucket (Rhode Island) Times, May 2 and 19, 1898, and the Boston Herald, May 18, 1898.

12 The Rochester Patriots relocated to Ottawa on July 7, 1898. The franchise returned to Rochester as the Rochester Bronchos the following season.

13 As reported in Sporting Life, January 6, 1900, February 10, 1900, and March 10, 1900.

14 As reported in Sporting Life, August 18, 1900, and elsewhere.

15 Reach Official Guide for 1902 (Philadelphia: A.J. Reach Company, 1901), 166. Baseball-Reference has no batting statistics for the 1901 Eastern League season.

16 See the Boston Herald, January 11, 1902, and Sporting Life, January 27, 1902. Rochester skipper Al Buckenberger had moved up to the job of Boston Beaneaters manager.

17 Pawtucket Times, February 1, 1902.

18 Boston Herald, February 1, 1902. See also Worcester Daily Spy, April 16 and 26, 1902.

19 Worcester Daily Spy, April 29, 1902.

20 As reported in the Washington (D.C.) Evening Star and Worcester Daily Spy, May 3, 1902. The injunction was grounded upon the $200-a-month pact that Bean had signed with Rochester just before the 1902 season started.

21 As per the Boston Herald and Boston Journal, May 4, 1902, and the Trenton Times, May 9, 1902.

22 Davis, a superb defender who had batted .332 during his ten-year stay in New York, jumped to the American League Chicago White Sox for the 1902 season.

23 As reported in the Fort Worth Register, June 18, 1902.

24 Worcester Daily Spy, June 27, 1902.

25 Sporting Life, July 5, 1902.

26 Ibid.

27 According to the Worcester Daily Spy, June 27, 1902.

28 Boston Herald, October 3, 1902.

29 Sporting Life, December 6, 1902.

30 As reported in the Jersey Journal, (Jersey City, New Jersey), September 22, 1903. Bean signed his 1904 Skeeters contract on August 31, 1903.

31 As per the Jersey Journal, October 27, 1903.

32 Boston Herald, March 5, 1904. Although there was speculation that Bean wanted to avoid the pressure of playing in his hometown and/or that he was dissatisfied with Boston contract terms, the reasons behind Bean’s adamant refusal to play for Boston in 1904 are unclear to the writer.

33 Jersey Journal, April 27, 1904.

34 Although it offered college courses in its beginning years, Marist was intended for high-school-age boys. Marist of Atlanta is now a highly-regarded coed prep school, and not to be confused with Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, or other similarly-named institutions run by the Marian Order.

35 As reported in the Jersey Journal, June 1, 1904, bemoaning Bean’s absence from the Skeeters lineup. Without him, the club “failed to play with the same vim.”

36 As recalled years later by Jersey City teammate George Vandergrift in the Jersey Journal, March 24, 1921.

37 Boston Herald, September 6, 1906.

38 As reported in the Boston Herald, September 6, 1906.

39 As reported in the Washington Evening Star, February 3, 1909, Macon (Georgia) Telegraph, February 7, 1909, Seattle Daily Times, February 13, 1909, and elsewhere.

40 According to the Jersey Journal, February 16, 1909.

41 As per the Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 17, 1909. In 23 games for St. Paul, Bean hit .200.

42 For a detailed, yet still incomplete, accounting of the sporting endeavors connected to Joe Bean, see the Bean player questionnaire in his file at the Giamatti Research Center.

43 As per the Macon Telegraph, August 8, 1914.

44 For an account of the early Marist baseball teams, including those featuring future Detroit Tigers right-hander Ed Lafitte, see “Bean to Queen to Franks: A Story of Marist Baseball,” by Richard J. Reynolds, III, Marist Matters, 1990, 9-13.

45 As per the Atlanta Chronicle, December 10, 1930.

46 As per the Bean player questionnaire, page 2.

47 Atlanta Constitution, February 16, 1961.

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