The Chicago Cubs hurler’s handicap became a handicap for opposing players en route to becoming one of greatest pitchers of the Deadball Era and of All-Time.
Born Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown to a farming family in Nyesville, Indiana in 1876, he would go on to be known as “Three Finger” Brown, the ace right-hander for the great Chicago Cubs teams during the early decade of the Twentieth Century.
The reason for his nickname came when Mordecai Brown was just five years old. When feeding material into the farm’s feed chopper, his hand slipped and was mangled, severing much of his index finger and damaging the others. He further caused injury to the hand while it was healing after he fell chasing a rabbit, resulting in the breaking of his other fingers and were not set properly. These injuries resulted in a bent middle finger, a paralyzed little finger and a stump from where his index finger used to be.
When Mordecai reached his teenage years, he received another fitting nickname, “Miner” Brown, due to his working in the local coal mines. It was there that Brown found baseball as a working-class relief from the daily grind in the mines.
He learned to pitch by aiming rocks at the knot-holes on the sides of his family barn. He developed great control and his hand injury gave him an unusual spin, a handicap that would later make him one of the greatest pitchers during his era. His unique trajectories that curved and dropped at the same time, made it extremely hard to hit and, if you did, it was hit into the ground. He was a perfect fit for the Deadball Era.
The surrounding towns outside of Nyesville, Clinton, Shelburn, Brazil, and Coxville, all had semi-professional baseball teams and, by 1898, Brown was a third baseman playing semi-pro baseball for Coxville. When Coxville’s regular pitcher failed to report to the game, Brown was called to fill on the mound. His deformed hand enabled him to throw bewildering pitches with sublime movement and, since he was an infielder, add some extra defensive in the field, as well.
Despite his handicap, his pitching performance was so immaculate that the opposing manager offered Brown more money to come play for them. However, Brown didn’t jump until he’d completed the season.