Mordecai “Three Fingers” Brown – Maybe Worst Cardinals Trade

When people evaluate trades, the Cardinals giving up on Mordecai Brown and trading him to the Cubs, may be one of the worst in their history. But you can’t really blame them as he was a rookie for the Cardinals in 1903 and didn’t pitch very well. That came later.

How did he get just three fingers?

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 at the age of seven.  He slipped and his hand was mangled by the knives, severing much of his index finger and damaging the others.

Because of childhood curiosity, Mordecai lost most of his right index finger in a piece of farming equipment. Not long after, he fell while chasing a rabbit and broke his other fingers. The result was a bent middle finger, a paralyzed little finger, and a stump where the index finger used to be.
Here’s a picture of his hand.


The result of the accidents was Brown becoming one of the first truly great breaking ball pitchers in Major League Baseball, as the odd fingers made for natural spin on the ball. Ty Cobb once called Brown’s pitching “the most devastating” he had ever attempted to hit.

Brown, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound right-hander, went 239-130 with a 2.06 ERA (139 ERA+) in his career. He ranks sixth in history in career ERA, ninth in WHIP and 14th in shutouts.

Brown became good with the Cubs with his 1906 season, in which he went 26-6 with a 1.04 ERA (253 ERA+, which is eighth best in a single season ever) for a Cubs club that went 116-36 and then lost the World Series. They would, however, win the 1907 and 1908 World Series. During those two World Series, in which Brown’s Cubs bested Cobb’s Tigers, Brown started three games. He won all three games while working 20 innings and not allowing an earned run.


Signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as an infielder, Brown learned to add spin to the ball by releasing it off his stub and became a successful pitcher. Dubbed “Three-Finger” Brown by the sportswriters, he became the ace of the Chicago Cubs teams that won four pennants and two world championships. He won 20 or more games for six consecutive seasons, beginning in 1906.

as a Cardinal

Brown made his debut for the Cardinals in 1903 and pitched one season in St. Louis. In that debut against Chicago, Brown pitched five innings, and his dominance over hitters was obvious to all observers. He was 9-13 with a 2.60 ERA in 201 innings pitched and walked 59 while fanning 83 batters for the season.

The Trade

After the 1903 season, Brown and pitcher Jack O’Neill were traded to the Chicago Cubs, the team Mordecai beat in his rookie appearance and the team for which he would set records that have not been broken to date. The Cardinals received veteran pitcher Jack Taylor, who was suspected of throwing games, and rookie catcher Larry McLean.


“That old paw served me pretty well in its time. It gave me a firmer grip on the ball so I could spin it over the hump. It gave me a greater dip.”
– Mordecai ‘Three Finger’ Brown