Mordecai was never one to shy from sportswriters or photographers, who were eager to capture the spectacle of his missing finger.
A wool jersey from the Cubs last World Series championship.
Souvenir score book from the Cubs 1907 World Series victory over Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers. Both teams would repeat the match up in 1908, with the Cubs securing back-to-back world titles.
President Taft greets Mordecai Brown during a pre-game photo opportunity. As Commander-in-Chief, Taft was also the country’s chief baseball fan.
The following year was also a good one for Three Finger. In 1907 he posted a 20-6 record and an ERA of 1.39. That year the Cubs did win the World Series, beating the Detroit Tigers in five games. In that series Mordecai pitched in only Game 5, winning 1-0.
Brown continued his winning ways. In 1908 Mordecai led the league with an ERA of 1.47.
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. In John P. Carmichael’s My Greatest Day in Baseball, Mordecai said, “I was about as good that day as I ever was in my life.” That was the day the Giants and Cubs met for a playoff game to determine the National League championship.
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.
In Mordecai’s How to Pitch Curves, an instruction manual written for young boys and published by Chicagoan W.D. Boyce, Brown referred to that playoff game as a time when having nerve served him well in baseball. He had plenty of “pluck,” as he put it, to pitch in front of a hostile crowd after receiving death threats. Gambling was commonplace in those days, and many had everything they owned riding on that game.
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. 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 and went on to win his 29th regular season game, securing the Chicago Nationals a third straight pennant and sending them on to play the Detroit Tigers and Ty Cobb in the World Series.
After the game, believing the Cubs had stolen the pennant from their team, New York fans threw hats, bricks, and bottles at the Chicago players. Frank Chance received a blow from a spectator that so injured his throat he couldn’t speak for days. The riotous atmosphere required a police escort for the Cubs by paddy wagon.
The following World Series must have seemed anticlimactic. Despite the opener in which Chicago broke a 0-0 tie in the eighth inning to win–a win Mordecai received by entering the game that inning– there were no amazing feats to compare with the October 8 playoff. Mordecai also won Game 4 3-0. Detroit won only Game 3 even with Ty Cobb, American League batting champion, batting .368 in the series. The final game still holds the record for the lowest fan attendance in a World Series game. Only 6,210 Detroit fans showed up to see the Cubs defeat the Tigers.
“It was the most devastating pitch I ever faced.”
Ty Cobb on Brown’s breaking ball.
Biographical material by Cindy Thomson – SABR Bio Project