Dugan's major league career began when he was signed to play shortstop by Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack in 1917. He struggled as a hitter his first two years, batting only a combined .195, but in 1919 he batted .271, and then the next year hit .322. He was moved permanently to third base in 1921, and would be a steady .280-.300 hitter as well as a fine defensive third baseman for the rest of his career.
It was in his first years in baseball that Dugan acquired the nickname of "Jumping", a nickname bestowed on him since he would often take unauthorized leaves from the team.
In 1922, Dugan had been traded by the Athletics to the Boston Red Sox. On July 3rd, 1922 he was sent by the Red Sox to the New York Yankees in a controversial deal. Red Sox owner Harry Frazee had been unloading his Red Sox players almost haphazardly, and Dugan's acquisition by the Yankees helped them edge out the St. Louis Browns in a tight 1922 pennant race. Because Dugan's trade occurred in the latter part of the season, and worried that teams might try to buy their way to a pennant during the season, Major league Baseball would later move up its trading deadline to June 15.
Dugan played in five World Series with the Yankees, playing in 25 series games and batting .267 (24-for-90). His best year was 1923, when he hit .283 and scored 111 runs, helping the Yankees to their first World Championship. He was the starting third baseman on the 1927 Yankees, a team considered by many the greatest baseball team of all-time, although by this time Dugan's career was starting to wind down. Dugan also played with the Boston Braves in 1929 and finished his career with the Detroit Tigers in 1931, a season in which he played just eight games.
SCP Auctions presented select memorabilia items from the Joe Dugan collection in May 2004.