“Three-Fingered Brown, gee, he was one of the wonders of baseball.”
Al Bridwell, quoted in Lawrence Ritter’s book The Glory of Their Times
Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown, nicknamed “Three Finger,” was one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers during the first two decades of the 20th century. He gained his unusual nickname from two childhood accidents. When he was seven years old, he caught the index finger on his right hand in his uncle’s corn shredder and had to have it amputated above the knuckle; just weeks after the first mishap, he broke his third and fourth fingers chasing a hog, and they never grew straight. Brown’s misfortune would prove a blessing to him – the mangled fingers gave an eccentric movement to his pitches (Casey Stengel said that “he could make that baseball do the damndest things”), thus allowing him to win 239 games during a 14-year career, mostly with the Chicago Cubs. His pitching duels against fellow right-hander Christy Mathewson were among the legendary games of the early 20th century.
At the height of Brown’s popularity, the corn shredder which took his finger was put on display as the centerpiece of a tourist attraction in his hometown of Nyesville, Indiana. Next to the shredder was a case filled with detailed photographs of Brown’s right hand and a number of curiosities from his youth, including this rather graphic replica of his amputated finger, which was reportedly made of a rubberized material by an anonymous farmer and friend of the Brown family. While the artifact may seem rather morbid, it is significant in that it is the only surviving object from the Mordecai Brown display in Nyesville, which was likely the first example of a baseball reliquary.