Three Finger Brown

Position: Pitcher
St. Louis Cardinals, 1903; Chicago Cubs, 1904-1912, 1916; Cincinnati Reds, 1913; St. Louis Terriers, 1914; Brooklyn Tip-Tops, 1914; Chicago Whales, 1915

Three Finger Brown was one of a kind. He became a great pitcher because of, rather than in spite of, a crippling injury.

Hall of Famer Three Finger Brown
Three Finger Brown lost part of his hand
in a farming accident as a child,
but the injury worked to his
advantage as a pitcher.

At the age of seven, while visiting his uncle’s farm in Indiana, Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown (1876-1948) accidentally stuck his right hand under a corn chopper. Before he could retrieve the hand, half of his index finger was torn off and the thumb and middle finger were also permanently impaired.

The damaged hand hampered Brown whenever he tried to play his preferred position of third base but strangely seemed to work to his advantage when he turned to pitching in his early 20s. The unnatural grip he had to employ on the ball caused many of his straight pitches to behave like knuckleballs and imparted an extra dip to his curves. The irony is that Brown lacked a major-league fastball and might never have risen above semipro competition were it not for his uncle’s corn chopper.

Brown joined the Cardinals in 1903; thinking that his crippled hand would handicap him in the long term, the Cardinals dealt him to the Cubs before the 1904 season. With Chicago, Brown achieved almost instant stardom and became the linchpin of the mound staff.

On June 13, 1905, Brown and Christy Mathewson of the Giants hooked up in one of the greatest pitching duels ever. Brown surrendered just one hit but came out the loser, 1-0, when Mathewson held the Cubs hitless. It turned out to be the last time Mathewson bested Brown until 1909. In between, Brown topped the great Matty nine straight times.

With Brown’s right arm leading the way, the Cubs won four pennants and two World Series between 1906 and 1910. The second and last championship came in 1908 against Detroit and saw Brown win two games and post a perfect 0.00 ERA. Two years earlier, Brown came through the regular season with a 1.04 ERA to set a 20th-century National League record.

Used not only as a starting pitcher but also as the Cubs’ main stopper, Brown topped the NL with 53 mound appearances in 1911 while compiling a 21-11 record. It was the last of his six straight 20-win seasons. Brown returned to the Cubs in 1916 after two years in the Fed­eral League.

Fittingly, his final big-league appearance came on Labor Day that season against Mathewson, who was also making his final bow. Matty, for once, took Brown’s measure, winning 10-8. Brown died in 1948, one year before he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

Here are Three Finger Brown's major league totals:

239 129 2.06 481 271 3,172.1 2,708 726 673 1,375

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