Inductee — Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown
Class of 1979
Right Handed Pitcher
BROWN, Mordecai Peter Centennial (“Three Finger,” “Miner,” “Brownie,” “The Royal Rescuer” ) – born Oct. 19, 1876, Nyesville; died Feb. 14, 1948, Terre Haute. St. Louis (NL) 1903, Chicago (NL) 1904-1912, Cincinnati (NL) 1913, St. Louis (Federal) 1914, Brooklyn (Federal) 1914, Chicago (Federal) 1915, Chicago (NL) 1916. P. 481g, 3,172.1ip, 239-130, 2.06. MGR, St. Louis (Federal) 1914 (50-63). Debuted April 19, 1903. 5-10, 175, BB, TR. Hall of Fame 1949.
Ty Cobb once said the most devastating pitch he ever faced was Three-Finger Brown’s curveball. Ironically, that pitch – a cross between a split-finger fastball and a knuckler – was the residue of a disfiguring childhood accident that also provided Brown’s unique nickname.
Brown grew up on a farm near Rosedale in west central Indiana. At age seven his right hand was mangled by a corn grinder. The accident cost Brown his index finger. While the hand was still in a cast, Brown fell into a rain barrel. He suffered more injuries that left his middle finger and pinky crooked and misshapen.
Brown worked as a coal miner as a young man and played sandlot baseball in Coxville. He began as a third baseman, but soon discovered that the deformed digits gave his pitches an unhittable spin. In 1901 Brown began his professional career with Terre Haute (Three-I) at age 24. He reached the majors in 1903 with St. Louis. The Cardinals traded Brown to Chicago after one season, where he developed into one of baseball’s premier pitchers.
These were the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance Cubs, NL champions of 1906-08 and 1910. Brown won 20 or more games from 1906 through 1911, including 29 in ’08. From 1906 to 1910 Brown’s highest earned run average was 1.86. His 1.04 ERA in ’06 remains the lowest in the NL since 1900. Brown pitched in four World Series for Chicago, throwing a two-hitter against the White Sox in 1906. In 1907 and 1908, when the Cubs were world champions, Brown was a combined 3-0 in Series play with an ERA of 0.00.
Brown slipped to 5-6 in 1912 at age 35 and was released. He joined the Cincinnati Reds in 1913 and went 11-12. When the Federal League began operations in 1914, Brown became player-manager of the St. Louis Terriers. Brown stepped down as manager in July with the Terriers in seventh place. He shifted to the Brooklyn Tip-Tops of the Federal League in August, and in 1915 Brown’s 17-8 record helped the Chicago Whales win the FL pennant. Brown rejoined the Cubs in 1916 after the league folded. Brown went 2-3 in his final year with the Cubs and returned to the minor leagues. He retired following the 1920 season with Terre Haute, where his professional career had begun two decades earlier.
During Brown’s halcyon years in Chicago, Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants was his biggest rival. Brown was the losing pitcher when Matheson no-hit the Cubs 1-0 in 1905. Brown proceeded to win his next nine decisions against Mathewson, culminating with a triumph on the last day of the 1908 season that gave Chicago the NL pennant. The two squared off for a final time on Labor Day in 1916. Mathewson won, giving him a 13-12 edge. The game marked the last big league appearance for both men. After leaving the majors, Brown continued to play and manage in the minor leagues.
Brown’s 57 career shutouts are tenth on the all-time list. His 2.06 lifetime ERA is third. Brown also pitched effectively in relief. From 1908 to 1911 he had the most saves in the NL. In 1911 Brown won 21 games and saved 13 more. No other 20-game winner has ever notched as many saves.
Brown’s relief efforts earned him the nickname “The Royal Rescuer.” Although he appears in most contemporary newspaper reports as “Three-Finger,” Brown’s teammates called him Mort, Miner or Brownie. Brown’s mother, a devout Christian, named him for two Biblical figures, Mordecai and Peter. The name Centennial derives from Brown’s birth in the United States’ hundredth year.
For a time Brown managed a semi-pro team in Lawrenceville, Ill. He later returned to Terre Haute, where he operated a filling station until 1945. Brown suffered a stroke in 1947. His death at the age of 71 was attributed to diabetes. In 1949 Brown became the first Indiana native elected to the Hall of Fame. Thirty years later he was one of the original 16 members of Indiana’s Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1994 the western Indiana town of Nyesville, Brown’s birthplace, erected a granite monument in his honor. Cindy Thomson and Scott Brown authored a biography, Three-Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story, in 2006.
From The Encyclopedia of Indiana-Born Major League Baseball Players, copyright (c) 2007 by Pete Cava. Reproduced with the author’s permission.