Mordecai Brown: The Spectacular Story Of "Three Finger" Brown

Bleacher Report Senior Writer IOctober 29, 2008

Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown is one of the best pitchers of all time. Born on a farm on Oct. 7, 1876, Brown had a lot to overcome to become a major league pitcher—he lost a finger at the age of seven to a corn-shredder.

Brown was also called "Miner" by teammates because of his work in a coal mine for several years before becoming a ball player.

He learned to pitch by aiming rocks at a barn wall and other wooden surfaces. Luckily for Brown, his grip on the ball caused an abnormal amount of spin.

Brown became a dominant pitcher, going 239-130 with an incredibly low 2.06 ERA. He played for the Cardinals in 1903, the Cubs from 1904-1912, the Reds in 1913, the St. Louis Terriers and Brooklyn Tip Tops in 1914, the Chicago Whales in 1915, and the Cubs again in 1916.

Wondering why they called him "Three Finger" Brown?

Reports later found that he actually had three fingers—not four. When he had the injury on the corn shredder, he injured another finger! Brown kept quiet about it until he was well into his adulthood.

Brown made the three fingers work to his advantage, as he could utilize his curveball and throw groundballs.

After a dominant minor league career, Brown came to the big league’s kind of late—at age 26 in 1903 with the St. Louis Cardinals. After going 9-13 with a spectacular 2.60 ERA, the Cardinals let him go. Mistake.

He played with the Cubs from 1904-1912—his period of dominance. After being released by St. Louis, he went 15-10 with a 1.86 ERA for the Cubs. In 1905, he had 18 wins and a 2.17 ERA. From 1906 to 1911, he was incredibly dominant. He won 20 games in each season (26, 20, 29, 27, 25, 21), and his ERA never went above three!

The next season was a disappointment. He was injured and went 5-6 with a 2.64 ERA. The Cubs showed little loyalty towards their savior by getting rid of him. With the Reds the next season, he was 11-12 with a 2.91 ERA. That was a good year, but it was his worst full season of his career. The next year, he had 14 wins, 11 losses, and a 3.52 ERA.

The next year was his last full season, and he showed he could still do it at 39. He had 17 wins, eight losses, and a 2.09 ERA. He had 17 complete games, allowed two home runs, and had a 1.07 WHIP! 1916 was his last full season as he went 2-3 with a career high 3.91 ERA—at age 40.

When I think of perseverance, I think of Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown. This was a guy that had three fingers and was better than most who had five.

After retiring, he ran a filling station from 1920 to 1945. Years later, he got diabetes and then was affected by a stroke. He died in 1948 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949.

83 years after his last game, he was selected as a finalist to the All-Century Team by Sports Illustrated. This was a team that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Yogi Berra, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, and Pete Rose.

Talk about obstacles.

Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins once said, When you start out with a disadvantage, you have to work harder to do what others take for granted. In the end, that gives you an advantage.”

I can comfortably say Mordecai Brown agrees with that.

The man with the highest batting average for any player with more than 2,500 at-bats, Ty Cobb (.366), said Brown's curveball was the most devastating he ever faced.

Imagine if he had five fingers.


Career statistics

239 wins

130 losses

2.06 ERA

Six 20-win seasons

55 Shutouts