The year was 1897 and former world heavyweight boxing champion Gentleman Jim Corbett had just delivered his biggest punch of the match in Wheeling, West Virginia. The crowd buzzed with anticipation awaiting the response from Ernie Beam. This was merely an exhibition, but Beam was no rank amateur. He had been in these situations before. He stared coldly at Corbett, who was now perched on second after a double. Beam allowed a hit to the next batter, scoring Corbett and knotting the game at 4-4 in the ninth. Beam regained his composure in the next round and pitched a scoreless 10th inning; his Mansfield, Ohio, teammates had plated a run in the top of the frame for the 5-4 victory.1
Corbett, who had been dethroned in March, was keeping his fan base aroused by staging exhibitions both on the diamond and in the ring. The fact that his brother, Joe Corbett, was winning 24 games with the Baltimore Orioles in 1897 certainly added to Gentleman Jim’s credibility on a ballfield. A few days before the Wheeling exhibition, Corbett and Beam had been teammates in a similar affair staged in Mansfield.
Beam had begun his baseball career in Mansfield and during the 1890s his pitching would take him to Jamestown, New York; Bay City, Michigan; Green Bay; Terre Haute; Peoria; and finally a yearlong stint with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1895. He played professionally into the 1900 season.
Ernest Joseph Beam was a lifelong resident of Mansfield, Ohio. He was born on March 17, 1867, the sixth of seven children of Ernest and Elizabeth Beam. Both parents had come to the States from the Hesse-Darmstadt region of Germany. The elder Beam worked as a shoemaker.2
We know little about Beam’s youth. He was in the work force by age 13 and took a job in a factory before turning 20. He grew to be a handsome blond standing 6-feet tall and weighing “something like 200 pounds.”3 Given his robust physique, it seemed Beam was destined to become a ballplayer. A right-hander, he developed a “cyclonic”4 fastball, but never seems to have developed other pitches to complement it. When not pitching, he appeared in games at shortstop, first base, and the outfield.
Beam learned the game in Mansfield and signed his first contract in 1889 with his hometown entry in the Tri-State League.5 Mansfield got off to a horrible start at 3-19 but recovered to reach fourth place in September. Beam had been hit hard in the Tri-State League and was released. He caught on with the Tiffin Reds in the newly formed and short-lived Ohio State League.6
Beam must have received some satisfaction when he led his Tiffin squad to an 8-5 victory over Mansfield in an August 25 exhibition game.7 He exhibited control issues and surrendered five walks and hit two batters but bore down in crucial situations. Beam had opened the season for Tiffin the day before with a nifty two-hit shutout of Youngstown.8 The league folded after less than a month of play.
The following spring found Beam in Jamestown, New York, playing for a team in the New York and Pennsylvania League (NYP). He saw plenty of action during the preseason barnstorming trip, beating his hometown team 10-3 after dropping a 3-2 contest in Dayton, Ohio. After that game a Dayton paper called attention to “Kelly, the colored first baseman of the Jamestown club.”9 Since 1867 attempts had been made to segregate baseball and Kelly’s appearance was newsworthy. Jamestown was one of the few franchises that still judged a man by his talent and personality rather than the color of his skin.10
Beam was described as “a tall, broad-shouldered man with a good eye” and a talented batter.11 “As a pitcher he is said to have great speed.”12 He won his first two starts for Jamestown but surrendered 10 hits in the second start and was released.13 It was initially reported that Beam would head back to Ohio, but instead he signed with the Erie (NYP) team.
Beam debuted with Erie on June 13 and handed the Meadville team its 15th consecutive defeat. The local paper praised his work and noted that his “in-shoot was especially deceptive.”14 It was one of the few times any reporter praised or even mentioned Beam’s breaking ball. He played about a month with Erie until a new manager (Frank Torreyson) was brought in and the roster reorganized to accommodate players Torreyson was bringing with him. Beam, who had batted in the middle of the order, was one of a handful of players released.15
Beam was signed by Bay City (Michigan) of the Northwestern League in 1891. He won his first four starts but lost three games in June.16 When Bay City disbanded on June 9, Beam traveled across Lake Michigan to join Green Bay of the Wisconsin State League.
When Beam joined Green Bay, the team was 7-6 and in fourth place. It continued to hover near the .500 mark but inched into third place by late July. Ownership was not satisfied with the progress of the club and hired longtime minor-league manager George Brackett to turn it around.
Beam witnessed a repeat of the Erie upheaval from the previous season with one slight difference. He was the only player retained as Brackett brought in a full squad, including three men with experience in the majors: Eddie Fusselback, Ducky Hemp, and Joe Kappel. The drastic reorganization had the desired result and Green Bay climbed into playoff contention. On September 13 Green Bay handed Appleton its 10th consecutive defeat with Beam earning the win. With the victory, Beam’s team was now in first place, battling Marinette.
The race between Marinette and Green Bay tightened and the two teams were tied at 47-38 and then again at 48-39 with three to go. The final games were in Marinette and a raucous crowd turned out to root the hometown team on. Green Bay players and fans were subjected to pea-shooter attacks and “shouts of derision by the half-civilized mob.” Marinette won 7-1 and it was “thought best for the Green Bay team to leave the two remaining games unplayed.”17
The following season, 1892, Beam joined Brackett with the Terre Haute Hottentots of the Illinois-Iowa League. Joining him were seven former teammates, including his batterymate from Green Bay, Edmund Terrien, as well as Hemp and Fusselback. Beam was the workhorse of the staff, tossing more than double the innings (198) of any other man (Tom Flood with 77).
The season was a chaotic one for the franchise. Brackett was replaced by Charles Flynn in June. Flynn was replaced in July by first baseman Andy Sommers. His tenure lasted only a few weeks before the franchise collapsed in mid-July. Beam posted a 10-12 record for the weak-hitting squad.18
The Hottentots’ demise proved financially lucrative for Beam. The townspeople of Lead, South Dakota, arranged a purse of $1,000 for a best-of-seven match with the team from Deadwood, South Dakota. Beam was recruited to pitch for Lead and won four games. He allowed four runs per game. The other Lead pitchers allowed 51 runs in three games. Beam’s exact earnings were not revealed but he was signed “at a salary that has never before been paid a man outside of the major leagues.”19
Beam traveled from South Dakota to Green Bay to rejoin Brackett, who had taken over there again. This time Green Bay captured the Wisconsin-Michigan League crown.20 Beam pitched well but did suffer a late-season 1-0 loss to Marinette. He tossed a four-hitter but saw an error in the eighth steal the victory.
Mansfield placed an entry in the Ohio-Michigan League in 1893. No definitive evidence has surfaced to link Beam with the team, however. Possibly this was because of his nuptials with Katherine Seibert on June 6. The couple would welcome three children, Frank Ernest, Florence Rose, and Arthur (who died at age 1).21 In August, Beam returned to the diamond, playing with semipro teams in Massillon, Ohio.
In 1894 Beam rejoined Brackett and Terrien with the Peoria Distillers of the Western Association. The Distillers struggled much of the season but put on a late-season surge to finish three games behind Rock Island.22 Beam was generally regarded as the finest pitcher in the league. He closed out the season tossing both ends of a doubleheader against St. Joseph. He lost the opener 10-9 but came back with a three-hit shutout, 8-0, in the finale.23
One of Beam’s Peoria teammates was Tom Delahanty, brother of Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ed Delahanty. Arthur Irwin, manager of the Phillies, watched a game or two of the Distillers and invited Beam to spring training in 1895. Delahanty joined the Phillies in late September and made his debut with them.
The Phillies were loaded with hitters, but the pitching staff was incredibly young. Beam and Gus Weyhing (who pitched only nine innings before an early May release) were the elder statesmen at age 28. The Phillies held spring camp in Hampton, Virginia. Beam’s first action came in an intrasquad game. Despite a sore arm, he pitched two scoreless innings of relief.24
A week later Beam was given the start in another intrasquad match and he was pummeled by the regulars, who “hit him hard at both ends and in the middle.”25 When the dust had cleared, he had surrendered 23 hits and 27 runs in four innings.26 There was speculation that Beam had pitched himself out of the league and that he had been sold to Detroit, but Irwin decided to keep him.
The Phillies split their squad and played exhibition games in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Beam was on the second team, playing outfield and shortstop as well as pitching. The regular season opened April 18 on the road with Beam seeing his first action on May 2 in the home opener.
The Phillies were playing the Giants and were behind 9-2 in the ninth when Beam entered the game. “He acquitted himself in first-class style and the crowd … gave him a round of applause,” wrote an observer.27 He got his first major-league at-bat in the bottom of the frame and struck out.
Beam pitched scoreless relief in Pittsburgh on May 15 but was touched for three runs in two innings in Chicago a week later. A Philadelphia writer described the Phillies pitching staff as “one good man, two promising men and a series of misfits.”28 Although Beam was lumped with the misfits, Baseball Reference credits him with three saves. He pitched in only three Philadelphia victories, so the saves must have occurred in a doubleheader with Louisville on June 14 and then with Pittsburgh the following day.
Under what standards Beam was retroactively given those saves is questionable as he was simply finishing games with scores of 17-6, 14-6, and 16-6. In Louisville he pitched the ninth in both games and walked two batters each time. In Pittsburgh he was again sent in for the ninth inning and surrendered a walk, three hits, and two runs. In the three games he had a 9.00 ERA and a WHIP of 2.667.29
Beam did not see action with the Phillies for a month but was loaned out to area teams to keep him active. He was given the start in Pittsburgh on July 20, going the distance in a 12-6 loss. The box score listed three runs as earned. He walked one, hit one batter, and struck out two. At the plate he was hitless but stole a base and scored a run.
Five days later Beam was sent into a game in Cincinnati in the seventh inning with the Phillies down 12-3. A charitable writer submitted the following account of his performance: “Beam was not so bad so far as being hit was concerned, but he was very wild. [Mike] Grady’s catching was a veritable nightmare. He could hold nothing … and must have broken Beam’s heart.”30 He allowed seven runs in three innings while walking four and launching five wild pitches. He would get one more relief role, on August 3. He pitched in local games but not with the Phillies after that.
Beam posted a 11.31 ERA in nine games but was still tendered a contract for 1896 although he was not invited to spring training.31 The Phillies stocked a Philadelphia team known as the Athletics that played in the Class B Pennsylvania State League. Beam struggled with consistency with the Athletics; unhittable at times, he also had games in which he had trouble locating home plate. He posted an 11-8 record.
The Pennsylvania State League dissolved in mid-July and the Athletics joined the Atlantic League. Beam lost his only start in the new league before moving on to Carlisle in the Cumberland Valley League. The league struggled with poor attendance and Hanover dropped out in early August, leaving just three teams. Beam had thrown well in four outings, posting a 3-1 record and a WHIP of 0.857. He homered in his final game at Chambersburg to win, 4-3.
From Carlisle, Beam went north to an independent team in Hornellsville, New York. There he twirled a no-hitter against Corning on August 15. It was far from perfect. There were five baserunners — three on walks and two on errors. The win clinched the pennant for Hornellsville.32 As he did each offseason, he returned home and worked in Mansfield while keeping his arm in shape for the next season.
In 1897 Beam traveled to Indiana to pitch and play first base for the Washington Browns in the Class C Central League. Washington dropped out of the league on July 19 and Beam quickly joined his hometown Haymakers. The Haymakers were members of the Class B Interstate League and were on the road in Fort Wayne. Beam picked up the win in his first outing, on July 23. He pitched with mixed results the rest of the way. He capped his season by tossing an exhibition game against the Cleveland Spiders on September 24. He was done in by six errors in the 7-6 loss.
Beam’s career was winding down. In 1898 he pitched for Mansfield (Interstate) and Detroit (Western). Detroit reserved him for 1899 but its contract offer was so meager that Beam took the season off.33 He was coaxed back to professional ball with Sioux City, Iowa, in 1900. He started at first base three times, umpired twice, and pitched one game before returning home.34
Beam worked in a machine shop, the Aultman-Taylor Company. He was appointed a Mansfield policeman in 1901. As the new man on the force, he was given night detail. This led to an ironic incident: He had to investigate a theft from his own fruit cellar. He continued to be active in local baseball into his 40s. He was also an avid hunter, accompanying friends each fall to their camps.
Beginning in 1916, Beam battled cancer. He underwent a pair of operations and was confined to desk duty at the police station. Beam was a popular fellow in Mansfield and the local paper had some fun when he made a clerical error as the desk officer. A man named Ernest Smith was booked on a charge of public intoxication. Beam inadvertently listed Smith as Beam but caught the error before the hearing. His friends must have had quite a chuckle at his expense.35
In the summer of 1918, Beam was placed on leave to rest at home, where he died on September 12, 1918. He was survived by his wife, two children, three brothers, and a sister. He was buried in the Mansfield Catholic Cemetery. The full police force attended his funeral at St. Peter’s Church.
Beam’s son Frank carried on the name Beam on the ball diamond, playing for various local teams, mostly as an outfielder. Katherine continued to reside in Mansfield and was living with her daughter when she died at Florence Rose’s home in 1947. The family had added seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren since Ernest’s death.36
Thanks to James Forr for suggestions about identifying the leagues that Baseball Reference does not list in its 1889-90 gap. Thanks to Ted Knorr for his guidance about integrated teams in 1890.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Len Levin and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.
1 “Corbett Was the Feature,” Wheeling (West Virginia) Register, September 11, 1897: 6.
2 Misidentified as the Bearn family on ancestry.com. Census information for the family can be found on page 13 of the Mansfield Third Ward compiled in July 1870.
3 St. Paul (Minnesota) Globe, April 9, 1895: 7. Baseball Reference lists him at 185 pounds.
4 Dayton Daily News, May 5, 1899: 9.
5 The league was inappropriately named when a franchise in Fort Wayne did not enter. The circuit had five Ohio teams and Wheeling, West Virginia.
6 The league formed in mid-August with four teams and lasted about a month.
7 “The Sporting World,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 26, 1889: 5. It should be noted that there was also an Ohio League in 1889.
8 “Ohio League,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, August 25, 1889: 3.
9 Dayton Herald, April 10, 1890: 4.
10 Thank you to historian Ted Knorr who provided guidance and insight about baseball segregation in an online interview. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, also had an integrated team that year, according to Knorr.
11 Sadly, the writer did not mention whether Ernie batted left or right.
12 “Baseball,” Dunkirk (New York) Evening Observer, April 24, 1890: 4.
13 “Baseball Notes,” Dunkirk Evening Observer, June 10, 1890: 4.
14 “On the Diamond,” Erie (Pennsylvania) Times-News, June 14, 1890: 1.
15 “Bradford Wins Again,” Erie Times-News, July 26, 1890: 4.
16 “Sky Scrapers,” Mansfield (Ohio) News-Journal, May 31, 1891: 5. Plus line scores from the Detroit Free Press.
17 “Robbed and Roasted,” Green Bay Press-Gazette, September 22, 1891: 3.
18 Sommers posted the highest batting average for the team at .250. That placed him 25th in the league hitting ranks.
19 “Green Bay Holds On to Take Pennant,” Green Bay Press-Gazette, October 3, 1892: 3.
20 The league was a four-team circuit with one team in Michigan (Menominee) and three in Wisconsin.
21 It should be noted that a family tree on ancestry.com lists Arthur as Frank Ernest’s half-brother.
22 “Last Game of the Season,” Omaha World-Herald, September 24, 1894: 2.
24 “This Looks Familiar,” Philadelphia Times, March 23, 1895: 8.
25 “The Interstate League,” Mansfield News-Journal, April 1, 1895: 5.
26 “Heavy Batting by the Phillies,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 30, 1895: 4.
27 “Running the Bases,” Philadelphia Times, May 3, 1895: 6.
28 “Hodson Not a Success,” Philadelphia Times, May 23, 1895: 8.
29 Game stories from the Philadelphia Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Pittsburgh Daily Post were consulted.
30 “Phillies Chase Leather,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 26, 1895: 5.
31 “Sports of Various Sorts,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 28, 1896: 5.
32 “Scorching for Corning,” Buffalo Courier, August 16, 1896: 15.
33 Dayton Daily News, May 5, 1899: 9.
34 A box score from the May 19 Sioux City Journal has him pitching into the eighth inning in a start vs. Pueblo. This is contrary to the stat line in Baseball Reference, which credits him with one inning pitched.
35 “Local Brevities, He Arrested Himself,” Mansfield News-Journal, May 23, 1918: 16.
36 “Rites for Mrs. Beam to Be Held Friday,” Mansfield News-Journal, December 10, 1947: 13.