American baseball player
Of all the young men in history who aspired to play professional baseball, Mordecai Brown wished it perhaps most of all. After a childhood accident left him with a badly mangled right hand, he learned to throw a natural sinker ball despite the handicap. He spent fourteen years in the major leagues and was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, as one of the most successful right-handed pitchers in the history of the game.
Born Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown in Nyesville, Indiana, he was one of five children of Peter P. Brown, a farmer, and Jane Marsh, a homemaker. Brown's parents embellished his given name with a second middle name of Centennial, in honor of his birth year, which marked the first American Centennial.
As a child of six or seven, Brown became engrossed one day by the workings of a threshing machine at his
uncle's farm and, against the warnings of his elders, put his hand too close to the blades. The index finger of his right hand was severed, leaving a misshapen stump. The odd-looking digit was barely on the mend when Brown reinjured the same hand while chasing a pig, breaking the two middle fingers and injuring the pinky finger. The broken fingers healed badly, and the pinky finger remained permanently paralyzed. The hand was crippled for the rest of his life. Years later, as a professional baseball player, the deformity earned him the nickname "Three-Finger Brown." He was known also by the nickname of "Miner" because as a teenager he went to work in the mines around Nyesville before turning to professional baseball for his livelihood.
It was while working in the mines that Brown decided to become a baseball player. With the encouragement of a co-worker—a former minor leaguer named Legs O'Connell—Brown mustered his determination and learned to grip and toss the baseball with his injured hand. With O'Connell's help Brown overcame the pain of handling the ball, yet time and again when he tossed it, the ball curved and jumped stubbornly, landing with an awkward twist. Brown was frustrated by this inability to control the ball, until O'Connell convinced him to turn the odd throwing style into an advantage. With practice and perseverance, Brown learned to pitch a natural curve ball with a special flair made possible only by the mass of crippled fingers on his right hand. In pursuing a goal of playing professional baseball he had never held hope of becoming a pitcher until he came to appreciate his own uncanny ability to throw a sinker ball.
Pitched in as a Pitcher
In his first excursion into semi-professional ball in 1898, Brown played third base for a team out of Coxville, Indiana. One day, at O'Connell's urging, the team manager allowed Brown to pitch in a pinch. When Brown stepped onto the mound, the game was thought to be hopelessly lost, but Brown pitched one strike after another—for five innings. He allowed only one hit, a weak grounder, and his team won 9-3. Brown received an offer to play for the defeated team from Brazil, Indiana.
He took his first professional job in baseball for $40.00 a month, in 1901 as a pitcher for the Terre Haute Three-I League team. In his first season, he pitched thirty-one games and won twenty-three. He won twenty-seven out of forty-two games for Omaha in 1902. Because of his deformed pitching hand, Brown threw curve balls that were difficult to hit, and his maniacal sinker ball was punctuated by a fiendish dip. Reluctant batters had no choice but to swing at Brown's sinkers, very low to the ground as they were. Right-handed batters sent Brown's pitches down and out, and left-handed batters sent them down and in. Either way Brown's pitching more often than not allowed the fielding team led by Brown to clinch an easy out.
|1876||Born October 19 in Nyesville, Indiana|
|late 1890s||Plays semi-professional baseball for Coxville, Indiana|
|1901||Pitches for Terre Haute (Three-I League)|
|1902||Pitches for Omaha (Western League)|
|1903||Signs with the St. Louis Cardinals (National League); marries Sallie Burgham|
|1904-12||Plays with the Chicago Cubs (National League); wins the pennant in 1906, 1907, 1908, and 1910|
|1906||Pitches a shutout in the World Series against Chicago White Sox|
|1907||Pitches a shutout in the World Series against Detroit Tigers|
|1908||Cubs win the pennant after famous makeup game with the Giants; Brown pitches a shutout in the World Series against Detroit Tigers|
|1913||Plays with the Cincinnati Reds (National League)|
|1914-15||Plays with the Federal League|
|1916||Plays with the Chicago Cubs (National League)|
|1917-18||Pitches for Columbus (International League)|
|1919-20||Player-manager for Terre Haute (Three-I League)|
|1920-45||Manages a filling station until retirement|
|1948||Dies in Terre Haute, Indiana|
|1949||Elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame (Cooperstown)|
The St. Louis Cardinals purchased Brown from Omaha in 1903, bringing him into the National League (NL). With his career on track, he married Sallie Burgham that year. A lackluster 9-13 season sent him to the Chicago Cubs in 1904, as part of a double trade with Mike O'Neill. During his first season with the Cubs, he led the league with ten shutouts. In 1906 he finished the season 26-6, leading the league with nine shutouts and an earned run average (ERA) of 1.04.
Brown pitched for the Cubs for nine years. Between 1906 and 1910 he won 127 games, and in six separate seasons he won more than twenty games. With Brown on the mound the Cubs won the pennant four times: in 1906, 1907, 1908, and 1910. He pitched World Series shutout games in 1906, 1907, and 1908. In 1907 he pitched a no-hitter that won the series. From 1908-11, Brown led the league in saves.
As Brown's reputation grew, a rivalry brewed with Christy "Matty" Mathewson, the pitcher for the New York Giants. In a now famous game on October 8, 1908, the two opposed each other in a replay for the National League title. It was an error by the Giants' Fred Merkle that had forced the Giants to relinquish an earlier victory on September 23, and both teams were poised for a battle. Brown pitched from early in the first inning of the makeup game, after Jack Pfeister—the Cubs' starting pitcher—allowed one run. By the final inning, Brown had ceded only one run to the Giants during the entire contest. Mathewson, by allowing four runs in the seventh inning, delivered a 4-2 victory to the Cubs. Chicago took home its third consecutive pennant that year.
Brown played for the Cincinnati Reds in 1913. He spent 1914-15 playing for the Federal League, with the St. Louis Terriers and the Brooklyn Feds. He returned to the Cubs for a final season of play in 1916. At the end of that season both he and Mathewson retired simultaneously from major league play after one final dual on September 4. Although Mathewson won that day by a score of 10-8, Brown retired with a career record of 239-130, an ERA of 2.06, and fifty-seven National League shutouts.
Brown was a sturdy man who stood five-feet-teninches tall and weighed 175 pounds. Despite his right-handed pitch, he batted both ways. In retirement he played for two years in the International League, then managed the Terre Haute Three-I team through 1920.
Brown operated a filling station until suffering a stroke in 1945. He died on February 14, 1948. His remains are interred at Rose Lawn Cemetery in Terre Haute.
|Bro-F: Brooklyn Feds; Chi-N: Chicago Cubs; Cin-N: Cincinnati Reds; StL-F: St. Louis Terriers; StL-N: St. Louis Cardinals.|
In 1949 Brown was inducted into the Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. His 1.04 season ERA for 1906 stood as the number two all-time record into the twenty-first century. During his career he pitched five complete winning games in the World Series, including the winning game in 1907. In 1908 Brown became the first pitcher to record four consecutive shutouts. Long-time Cubs second-baseman Johnny Evers in discussing Brown with Hall of Fame historian Ernest J. Lanigan said, "You haven't space enough to tell of all the grand deeds of Brownie on and off the field. Plenty of nerve, ability and willingness to work at all times under any conditions.… There never was a finer character-charitable and friendly to his foes and ever willing to help a youngster breaking in." Evers was quoted by Lee Allen and Tom Meany in Kings of the Diamond.
Allen, Lee, and Tom Meany. Kings of the Diamond. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1965.
Garraty, John A., and Mark C. Carnes, Eds. American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Schoor, Gene. Courage Makes the Champion. Princeton: Van Nostrand Company, Inc,, 1967.
Sketch by Gloria Cooksey
Awards and Accomplishments
|Retires in 1916 with a career win-loss record of 239-130, earned run average of 2.06, 57 National League shutouts, and six seasons with over 20 wins.|
|1906||Leads the NL with 10 shutouts; records #2 all-time earned run average of 1.04|
|1949||Induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York|