News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 5, 2010

Plaque honors legacy of Mordecai ‘Three-finger’ Brown

Brian Boyce
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Fred Massey sat amid the small crowd with pride, remembering stories his uncle had told him.

“I’ve got a lot of fond memories of him coming over to our house,” the 85-year-old Massey said of his great-uncle, Mordecai “Three-finger” Brown. He laughed to himself Saturday morning at the dedication ceremony for a plaque honoring Brown’s legacy. “He never forgot where his roots were.”

But from those local coal-mining roots stretched forth a Hall of Fame pitching career including two World Series rings with the Chicago Cubs. Brown, whose lifetime earned run average of 2.06 is one of the best four in big-league history, was a Parke County native whose hand was mangled in a farm accident when he was 5-years old. After his baseball days were over, he returned to Vigo County to open a Texaco station at 101 N. Seventh St.

Saturday morning, locals gathered at that spot, where now stands a municipal parking garage across from Indiana State University’s entrance, and unveiled a plaque in Brown’s honor.

Gene Crume, president of the ISU Foundation and Terre Haute’s new Prospect League team the Rex, said it doesn’t take long to hear Brown’s name when studying the history of baseball in Terre Haute.

“This is a complete community event,” he said, describing his pride in reconnecting the past accomplishments of local baseball players with those of today. “This is something Mordecai ‘Three-finger’ Brown would have been proud of.”

Vigo County historian and baseball fan Mike McCormick retold the story of Brown for the audience that morning, trying to speed it along a bit as an overcast sky threatened rain.

“Mordecai ‘Three-finger’ Brown is leaving us a great legacy here,” he said, noting the crippled hand of a coal miner who didn’t get his chance at the big leagues until he was 26 years old. “For all those who didn’t think they had a chance,” he said, Brown’s Hall of Fame records stands for them.

And as fate would have it, McCormick couldn’t help but point out, Brown once lived in an apartment at 331 N. Seventh St. The same apartment, he said, in which basketball coaching legend John Wooden lived while coaching at ISU. Wooden, 99, died Friday evening in Los Angeles. “Not at the same time of course,” McCormick laughed, adding that before Wooden became a household name via UCLA’s basketball program, he played and coached baseball, too.

“Terre Haute has a lot of baseball history,” he said.

Also in attendance was Scott Brown, a first cousin thrice removed from the pitcher. “This is probably one of the largest honors we’ve been to on behalf of the family,” Brown said of the plaque dedication. Brown, director of the Mordecai Brown Legacy Foundation, is a co-author with Cindy Thomson of the 2006 book, “Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story,” and works with youth groups focusing on overcoming adversity.

But Massey’s memories were of his mother’s uncle, who came to their home often for two of his great loves: biscuits and gravy and baseball. “He would sit for hours and talk baseball,” Massey said of a childhood hero that just happened to be kin. “He loved my mother’s biscuits and gravy.”

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.