The John Batty Coal Mine in Nyesville, Indiana; still active into the 1920s. The miners working at the John Batty gave Mordecai his first taste of baseball. Employed as a checker at age fourteen, Brown quickly became a favorite with the local coal mine baseball league.
Brown began his playing career as a third baseman, but found his niche on the mound.
Three Finger was versatile in his delivery to the plate. Not only did the ball curve and dip to defy batters, but Brown could also throw overhand, underhand, and sidearm.
Mordecai has often been the subject of sports artists.
Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown, best known today for his unusual name and his more or less descriptive nickname of “Three Finger,” was the ace right-hander of the great Chicago Cub teams of the first decade or so of the twentieth century. 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. His battles with the Giants’ Christy Mathewson epitomized the bitter rivalry between two teams that just about matched each other man for man.
Brown was born October 19, 1876, in the farming community of Nyesville, Indiana. His parents, Jane (also known as Louisa) and Peter Brown, moved the family from Kentucky to Indiana prior to Mordecai’s birth.
Because the year of his birth was our country’s centennial, Mordecai was given an extra middle name. Although it is generally assumed that the quite religious Browns chose their son’s names from the Bible, Peter was his father’s name, and there was an uncle named Mordecai. The family claimed to be of Welsh and English descent, but genealogical records indicate there may have been some Cherokee Indian heritage as well.
Mordecai had seven brothers and sisters. One of his brothers, John, also played baseball. According to Mordecai’s great-nephew, Fred Massey, John was as good as Mordecai though he never played above the semipro level because he didn’t apply himself.
In his playing days, Mordecai Brown was five feet ten inches tall and weighed 175 pounds. Although not considered a large man by today’s standards, he was often referred to as “big” by contemporary baseball commentators. Brown was a switch hitter.
Mordecai’s most familiar nickname was Three Finger, although he actually had four and a half fingers on his pitching hand. Because of childhood curiosity, Mordecai lost most of his right index finger in a piece of farming equipment. Not long after, he fell while chasing a rabbit and broke his other fingers. The result was a bent middle finger, a paralyzed little finger, and a stump where the index finger used to be.
Mordecai’s other nickname also described him. He was called Miner Brown because he worked in the coal mines when he was a teenager.
In those days the working class found relief from the daily grind by playing baseball. The mining towns near Mordecai’s home had their own teams, and Mordecai played for Clinton, Shelburn, and Coxville. While playing third base for Coxville, Mordecai was called on to fill in for Coxville’s regular pitcher against the neighboring town of Brazil. The year was 1898, and the pitcher’s absence turned into a blessing for Mordecai.
Brown’s deformed hand enabled him to throw a bewildering pitch with lots of movement. Although the jumping ball was a problem when Brown was an infielder, it was an advantage when he pitched. Despite having what had seemed like a terrible handicap, Brown’s pitching performance that day was daunting. The Brazil manager was impressed, and the team offered Brown more money to play for them, but he didn’t jump until he’d completed the season.
“That old paw served me pretty well in its time. It gave me a firmer grip on the ball, so I could spin it over the hump. It gave me a greater dip.”
(on his three-fingered hand)
Biographical material by Cindy Thomson – SABR Bio Project