Photo Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society as part of their Chicago Daily News Negatives Collection
This was hugely lopsided trade in the Cubs’ favor despite dealing away previous two-time 20-game winner Jack Taylor.
But their central return player, Mordecai Brown, went on to become one of the best pitchers in baseball history. Maybe not top five or ten, but in the history of baseball cracking the top 50 is incredibly impressive.
“Miner” Brown was the ace of the Cubs staff that, according to SABR researcher Cindy Thomson:
“With Brown leading an extraordinary pitching staff, the Cubs from 1906 through 1910 put together the greatest five-year record of any team in baseball history.”
He was part of the staff that led the Cubs to three straight World Series in 1906, 1907, and 1908, winning the latter two and again in 1910, losing to the Philadelphia Athletics.
But how good was he? Unable to find an eyewitness still alive who saw Mordecai pitch, we must rely on Al Gore’s invention to supply us with the correct information.
To begin with, in six of his first nine seasons with the Cubs he posted a sub-2.00 ERA; unheard of in this day and age.
Five times he had a sub-1.00 WHIP; again, unheard of today. He had a minimum of 20 complete games in his first eight seasons with the Cubs, and eclipsed 300 IP in 1908 and 1909.
From 1904 to 1912, his seasonal averages were: 21-6, 1.75 ERA, 23 complete-games, 253 IP, 2 HR allowed and a .992 WHIP.
Brown is the Cubs’ record holder in most wins in a season (29 in 1908), lowest ERA in a season (1.04 in 1906) and career shut outs (48).
During his career, Mordecai’s – and the Cubs’ – biggest rival was Christy “Big Six” Mathewson and the New York Giants.
Mathewson, just as Mordecai, is one of the best pitchers in baseball history – Baseball Reference has him listed as No. 5 on their EloRater. However, at one point Brown won over Mathewson on nine consecutive occasions, all of this after a June 13, 1905, loss in which Mathewson threw a no-hitter. The nine-game winning streak concluding on October 8, 1908—the game Mordecai called his greatest as noted in the previously-linked article by Cindy Thomson.
“But if one could ask him when his greatest game was, as many did when he was still living, he'd say October 8, 1908 at New York's Polo Grounds.”
The following is an account of that game taken from Ms. Thomson’s SABR.org post, infused with a short excerpt from her book Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story which will be highlighted in italics.
… The game was made necessary because of the 'Merkle Play.'
In the ninth inning during the September 23, 1908, game between the Giants and the Cubs, young Fred Merkle failed to touch second base on a play that should have scored the winning run for the Giants. Johnny Evers, remembering a similar play earlier when the call had not gone his way, solicited the ball Al Bridwell had hit. Whether he got that ball or another one is uncertain, but he stood jumping up and down on second base until he captured the umpire's attention.
Merkle was called out. Because the field was overrun by fans who thought the game was over, it was decided the game would be declared a tie, only to be replayed at the end of the season if it became necessary. It did. At the end of the season the Chicago Cubs and the New York Giants were deadlocked at the top of the National League standings.
Jack Pfeister started the game for Chicago, and Christy Mathewson took the hill for New York, a repeat of the Merkle game match-up. Mordecai had started or relieved in 11 of the Cubs' last 14 games so Manager Frank Chance decided not to start his ace.
**[This further angered Mordecai after already fuming from receiving threats from New York organized crime syndicate “Black Hand” to kill him if he pitched in the game.]
The crowd was enormous; some accounts put the total at 250,000 spectators, taking into account the throng outside the gates. While that number is highly unlikely, people did fill every available space inside and outside of the Polo Grounds, lining fence tops, sitting on the elevated train platform, and perching on housetops.
The Giants rocked Pfeister in the first inning, scoring their first run. Not willing to take any chances, Frank Chance called on Mordecai.
Pushing through the overflow crowd, Brown made his way in from the outfield bullpen [shouting] “Get the hell out of my way…here’s where you ‘black hand’ guys get your chance. If I’m going to get killed I sure know that I’ll die before a capacity crowd” and went on to win his 29th regular season game, securing the Chicago [Cubs] a third straight pennant and sending them on to play the Detroit Tigers and Ty Cobb in the World Series.
A short fun fact about Mordecai Brown and Christy Mathewson’s rivalry from BaseballHall.org: On Sept. 4, 1916, Mordecai Brown and Christy Mathewson faced each other in what turned out to be the final game of both their Hall of Fame careers.
**I added this statement to give context to the shortly followed The Mordecai Brown Story excerpt.