Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown (October 19, 1876 – February 14, 1948), nicknamed "Three Finger" or "Miner", was an American Major League Baseball pitcher at the turn of the 20th century. Due to a farm-machinery accident in his youth, Brown lost parts of two fingers on his right hand and eventually acquired his nickname as a result. Overcoming this handicap and turning it to his advantage, he became one of the elite pitchers of his era.
Brown was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1949.
Brown was born in Nyesville, Indiana. He was also known as "Miner", having worked in western Indiana coal mines for a while before beginning his professional baseball career. Nicknames like "Miner" and "Three Finger" (or sometimes "Three-Fingered") were headline writers' inventions. To fans and friends he was probably best known as "Brownie". To his relatives and close friends, he was also known as "Mort".
His three-part given name came from the names of his uncle, his father, and the United States Centennial year of his birth, respectively.
According to his biography, he suffered two separate injuries to his right hand. The first and most famous trauma came when he was feeding material into the farm's feed chopper. He slipped and his hand was mangled by the knives, severing much of his index finger and damaging the others. A doctor repaired the rest of his hand as best he could. While it was still healing, the injury was further aggravated by a fall he took, which broke several finger bones. They were not re-set properly, especially the middle finger (see photo), and he kept quiet about this clumsy accident until he was well into adulthood.
He learned to pitch, as many children did, by aiming rocks at knotholes on the barn wall and other wooden surfaces. Over time, with constant practice, he developed great control. As a "bonus", the manner in which he had to grip the ball (see photo) resulted in an unusual amount of spin. This allowed him to throw an effective curve ball, and a deceptive fast ball and change-up. The extra topspin made it difficult for batters to connect solidly. In short, he "threw ground balls", and was exceptionally effective.
After a spectacular minor league career commencing in Terre Haute of the Three-I League in 1901, Brown came to the majors rather late, at age 26, in 1903, and lasted until 1916 when he was close to 40.
Brown's most productive period was when he played for the Chicago Cubs from 1904 until 1912. During this stretch, he won 20 or more games six times and was part of two World Series championships. New York Giants manager John McGraw regarded his own Christy Mathewson and Brown as the two best pitchers in the National League. In fact, Brown often defeated Mathewson in competition, most significantly in the final regular season game of the 1908 season. Brown had a slim career 13-11 edge on Mathewson, with one no-decision in their 25 classic pitching matchups.
Brown's most important single game effort was the pennant-deciding contest between the Cubs and the New York Giants on October 8, 1908, at New York. With the great Mathewson starting for the Giants, Cubs starter Jack Pfiester got off to a weak start and was quickly relieved by Brown, who held the Giants in check the rest of the way as the Cubs prevailed 4-2, to win the pennant. The Cubs then went on to win their second consecutive World Series championship, their last to date.
Brown also played in the Federal League with the St. Louis Terriers (where he also briefly managed the Brooklyn Tip-Tops and the Chicago Whales).
Brown was a switch-hitter, which was and is unusual for a pitcher. He took some pride in his hitting, and had a fair batting average for a pitcher, consistently near .200 in the major leagues.
Brown and Mathewson wrapped their respective careers by squaring off on September 4, 1916. The game was billed as the final meeting between the two old baseball warriors. The high-scoring game was a win for Mathewson's Reds over Brown's Cubs.
Brown finished his major league career with a 239-130 record, 1375 strikeouts, and a 2.06 ERA, the third best in Major League Baseball history, after Ed Walsh and Addie Joss.
Following his retirement from the majors, he returned to his home in Terre Haute, where he continued to pitch in the minor leagues and in exhibition games for more than a decade, as well as coaching and managing. According to his biography, in an exhibition game against the famous House of David touring team in 1928, at the age of 51, he pitched three innings as a favor to the local team, and struck out all nine batters he faced.
From 1920 to 1945, Brown ran a filling station in Terre Haute, that also served as a town gathering place and an unofficial museum. He was also a frequent guest at Old-Timers' games in Chicago.
In his later years, Brown was plagued by diabetes and then by the effects of a stroke. He died in 1948, and news of his passing reminded sportswriters of his past achievements.
In 1999, 83 years after his last game and 51 years after his death, he was named as a finalist to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
Between Brown and Antonio Alfonseca, the Cubs have featured both a "three-fingered" pitcher and a six-fingered pitcher on their all-time roster (Brown technically had four, including the thumb).