by Cindy Thomson & Scott Brown
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In the early years of the twentieth century, the Chicago Cubs formed a baseball dynasty, making it to the World Series four times in the years from 1906 through 1910 and winning two of those series. One of the centerpieces of that team was the pitcher Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown, called Three Finger due to a childhood farming accident that severed the index finger of his right hand.
Two of Brown's relatives, Cindy Thomson and Scott Brown, have taken a shared love for baseball and Brown's chance discovery that he was related to the pitcher, to write a biography of Three Finger Brown, focusing not only on his life in baseball, but also looking at his world aside from the game. Their task appears to have been hampered by relatively little information on Brown's private life. Nevertheless, they are able to paint a reasonably complete picture of the man.
Brown received his rather strange middle name due to being born on October 19 in 1876, the nation's centennial. Living in the farm country of Indiana, he began helping around the farm from a young age and when he was five, his right hand got caught in a feed chopper. Mangled with the loss of part of his index finger, Brown looked like he was destined for the short life as a coal miner, but an amazing ability to throw a baseball with accuracy meant that he became a popular player on company teams and in 1901 he played for the Terre Haute semi-pro league. A year later he found himself in the minor leagues and on April 19, 1903 he made his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Told is a folksy way, much of Three Finger traces his history with various baseball teams, recounting important games in which he pitched, most notably a series of games in which he faced the New York Giants' Christy Mathewson in a multi-year rivalry that resulted in Brown coming out on top. At times, the book does seem to simply be a retelling of games, however Thomson and Brown always manage to pull back to provide a look at what the pitcher was doing off the field, whether it was looking for financial security in the gold mines of California or the gas stations of Indiana. His private life with his wife, Sarah, is allowed to remain private, although the authors do recount his off-the-field relationships with many players, such as Orval Overall, to give an idea of his private life.
The authors are not content to simply discuss Brown, but also look at the world of baseball on a larger scale. They note that the aging Chicago Cubs of 1910 where forced to play the World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics using a ball that had more juice than the one used during the season. Unable to move as quickly as the younger Athletics, the Cubs lost the series. A few years later, the breakup of the Championship Cubs team would practically coincide with the creation of the Federal League. Brown's position in the Federal League, first as a manager-player for the St. Louis Terriers and then as a pitcher for the Chicago Whales, provides the authors with the perfect means of looking at the start-up league.
More than just a look at Three Finger Brown, Three Finger paints a picture of baseball in an era which is mostly forgotten by fans today, except to note that until recently it was the last time the Cubs, White Sox, or Red Sox had won the World Series. The book serves as a marvelous introduction to the period in baseball history as well as the individual it focuses its attention on.
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