Cubs History: Remembering the lopsided Mordecai Brown trade

CHICAGO - 1908. The Chicago Cubs warm up before a game at West Side Park in Chicago during the 1908 season. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
CHICAGO - 1908. The Chicago Cubs warm up before a game at West Side Park in Chicago during the 1908 season. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** /
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This offseason, the Chicago Cubs made one of the most controversial trades in recent memory, sending off ace pitcher Yu Darvish for prospects years away from the majors. These are the kinds of trades that can be franchise-altering and many see this as a lopsided, salary dump trade in favor of the Padres, but back in the golden age of Cubs baseball, the North Siders committed highway robbery for one of the franchise’s greatest pitchers.

Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown started his career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1903, posting a respectable 2.60 ERA during the height of the dead-ball era. Rather than continue to see how he developed though, the Cardinals sent him to the Cubs just a year later for just a solid pitcher that was back in Wrigley within two years and a journeyman catcher who was thrown in. It resulted in a wildly lopsided trade where the Cardinals basically gave the team a Hall of Famer.

Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown became the Cubs ace for almost nothing

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The “big” piece going back to St. Louis was pitcher Jack Taylor who was an overall solid pitcher in his short time with the Cardinals. From 1904 through 1905, Taylor pitched to a 2.79 ERA and the next year, he ended back up on the Cubs after making another 17 starts in St. Louis.

Over that same stretch of time though, Brown dropped his ERA into the ones and by the time Taylor was back in Wrigley, he was putting up the best numbers of his Hall of Fame career. In 1906, Brown recorded one of the most absurd years in baseball history where he led the league in ERA (1.04), ERA+ (253), FIP (2.08), WHIP (0.934) and shutouts (9).

What made this even more painful is that Brown kept his ERA below 2.00 and remained one of the league’s finest through 1910. His last two years were nowhere near as remarkable as that seven-year stretch since arriving from St. Louis, but he was still a serviceable pitcher in that time. His career with the Cubs far out-weighed Taylor’s entire career, let alone the short time he spent as a Cardinal.

As for the other player in the trade, journeyman catcher Larry McLean, he only played 27 games for the Redbirds before moving on to Cincinnati. In that first stint with St. Louis, his bat was non-existent, slashing a mere .167/.205/.214 for the team. The only notable characteristic about McLean was that he was 6′ 5″.

Despite being traded for Brown, Taylor rejoined him and the two helped push the Cubs to their first World Series win in 1907 and Brown was their ace again in 1908 and the years after. The Cardinals, meanwhile, saw the two assets they traded Brown for contribute next to nothing for their team and only make their team worse in the long run.

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While the Redbirds eventually got revenge in the infamous Lou Brock trade, the trade for Brown defined the early golden age of Chicago Cubs baseball.

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