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(Recreation, circa 1908)

“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

             Amputees have performed heroically throughout the history of professional baseball, including Hugh Daily, Dave Keefe, Pete Gray, Monty Stratton, and Bert Shepard, among others. Even the entrepreneurial owner Bill Veeck lost a leg as a result of a World War II injury. But no amputee had as much success on the playing field as Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown, nicknamed “Three Finger,” who was one of baseball’s most dominating pitchers during the first two decades of the 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 right index finger was put on display as the centerpiece of a tourist attraction in his hometown of Nyesville, Indiana, perhaps the earliest example of a baseball reliquary. 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 crude attempt by an anonymous farmer and friend of the Brown family to recreate the amputated finger out of rubber.


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