News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 17, 2011

MARK BENNETT: He told tales of great-uncle Mortecai Brown, but Fred Massey's story is worth hearing

Fred Massey loved to talk about his family.

His wife and daughters, his parents, his brothers and sisters. And, his great-uncle, Mort. Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, that is, the Hall of Fame pitcher who led the Chicago Cubs to their last World Series title in 1908 with an amazing curveball and without an index finger.

Over breakfast in a downtown Terre Haute diner back in 1994, Fred shared stories with me of his Uncle Mort, told to Fred by his mother.

He described Mordecai raving about her biscuits and gravy, practicing his pitching by throwing old baseballs against a smokehouse on the family farm in Parke County, and sitting and talking baseball with kin for hours.

Fred never witnessed his famous Uncle Mort’s exploits on the diamond. The calendars of their lives didn’t overlap enough. Brown’s pro career ended in 1916, eight years before his niece, Nell, gave birth to Fred. As Mordecai reached the twilight of his life, Fred was in Europe, serving in the U.S. Army during World War II.

But family, even distant, meant everything to Fred. He and his great-uncle shared that trait.

Every fall, Brown left behind all the adulation and attention showered upon him in Chicago and returned to his quiet, rural hometown of Nyesville, where he would hunt, fish and reconnect with loved ones. “He never forgot where his roots were,” Fred said.

Brown died on Valentine’s Day 1948, a year before his election to the Hall of Fame. Fred was 23.

As the decades passed, Fred became more and more determined to keep his great-uncle from being forgotten. That’s why he told and retold the stories of “Three Finger” Brown. That’s why he worked so hard, for years, to get a memorial erected at Mordecai’s birthplace in Nyesville. That’s why he called me, asking for help in spreading the word about the project and the need for donations. Through his tireless persistence, the contributions gradually kept coming from the Wabash Valley and beyond.

Finally, on a sunny Saturday afternoon in July 1994, that granite monument was unveiled. In front a crowd of 200 relatives, friends, neighbors, Cubs fans, contributors and dignitaries at the memorial’s dedication, Fred paused, blinked back tears and said, “My secret dream isn’t a dream anymore. It’s a reality. I think this monument will be a part of history for many, many years to come.”

It would be easy to presume that ceremony honoring Mordecai Brown was Fred Massey’s defining moment. Indeed, he clearly felt satisfied. Yet, proud as he was, Fred lived a life worth remembering, too. You had to ask him about it, though; he gushed about his family, but rarely spoke of himself.

I got that chance three summers ago. The Chicago Tribune was sending a columnist and a photographer to Nyesville to see the Brown monument and talk with the pitcher’s closest living relative, Fred. The Trib’s timing was ideal. The Cubs had the best record in the National League in July 2008, exactly 100 years after “Three Finger” led the club to its last World Series title. Fred agreed to the interview, and arranged to meet the visiting journalists at Nyesville.

Then 83 years old, Fred called me and asked if I could pick him up at his West Terre Haute home and drive him to the monument site. Fred worried about his own driving skills on the winding Parke County roads and hoped I would handle that task while also prepping him for the interview. Plus, he figured we could grab lunch in Rockville and catch up, like old friends do. Once we reached Nyesville, the Trib guys took notes, photographs and video as Fred told Mordecai stories in his usual folksy style.

On the drive back, Fred filled in some details of his own background.

He worked for 27 years in the steel mills around Joliet, Ill., running a ladle crane. In his off time, Fred counseled inmates as a volunteer chaplain at Statesville Correctional Center and nearly two dozen other Illinois prisons. An unwavering Christian, Fred changed troubled lives. He was tough, too. Some of those encounters got intense. Once, an agitated prisoner grabbed Fred’s ink pen. Fred didn’t flinch. He reminded the guy about the consequences of harming a chaplain. He reminded the guy about his faith. The situation ended peacefully. Fred kept going back.

“If it’s starting to get too tough for everybody else, that’s when it’s getting just about right for me,” he said, grinning. “And I’ve maintained that philosophy all the way.”

Just like Mordecai Brown, Fred was a darned good ballplayer from Nyesville, who caught the attention of pro scouts. But he came of age as World War II broke out, so he became an Army demolition expert and combat engineer overseas. Near the war’s end, Fred got chosen to play center field for Gen. George S. Patton’s 3rd Army Battalion team in the European Theater World Series at Munich, Germany. Fred did OK. He won the Most Valuable Player award in a series that also involved big-leaguers Pee Wee Reese and Pete Reecer, and Negro League player Pete White.

When Fred got back to Parke County after the war, his baseball aspirations changed, but didn’t end. He played a bit more, coached some, and remained a faithful fan of the Cubs. He frequently voiced his frustrations to me about his Cubbies, but stuck by them, even though he never saw them repeat the success they last enjoyed with his Uncle Mort on the mound. Fred stuck by his dream of creating a memorial to Mordecai. Its dedication occurred during the annual Nyesville town reunion, an event Fred faithfully attended.

As we munched on bacon and eggs at that Terre Haute diner nearly two decades ago, Fred reminisced about the peaceful times of his boyhood near the creek and covered bridge at Nyesville. “When I die, I want my ashes sprinkled there. I’ve spent many hours there bass fishing,” he said.

Last Saturday, on his 87th birthday, Fred passed away. His obituary described him as a “devout Christian, a selfless and humble man, and a dedicated husband.” Friends and family gathered Wednesday to remember Fred at a memorial service. Soon, his ashes will be scattered along that creek and a baseball diamond where he once played.

Fred Massey never forgot where his roots were. Somewhere, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown is one proud great-uncle.

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local & Bistate
  • MET072914leo screen.jpg Slick’s debut

    Bobby “Slick” Leonard was the main attraction but his hometown, Terre Haute, was constantly in the background as friends, fans and family gathered in Indianapolis Tuesday night to honor the man famous for the words “Boom Baby.”

    July 29, 2014 8 Photos

  • MET 072914 TAJIMI YANASE.jpg Sister-city students get a dose of ‘new culture’

    One of Juri Sawada’s dreams has been to visit America.

    July 29, 2014 3 Photos

  • Motion delays trial for 2012 homicide

    A man who has been jailed about 20 months in connection with the homicide of his wife will not go on trial next week as scheduled.

    July 29, 2014

  • Sheriff charged in prostitution case

    Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden has spent more than 30 years in law enforcement working to protect the public from criminals, but on Tuesday he was treated as one.

    July 29, 2014 1 Story

  • maple candy closeup.jpg Vigo Parks dishing out the sweetness

    Vigo County Parks and Recreation has made a “sweet” addition to its maple syrup production at Prairie Creek Park.

    July 29, 2014 3 Photos

  • Danny Rodden indicted on federal charges

    Instead of overseeing the operations of the Clark County jail and police force Tuesday, Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden found himself being transported by the FBI to Indianapolis to answer federal charges.

    July 29, 2014 1 Story

  • Woman’s condition ‘fair’ after grocery store wreck

    A Terre Haute woman was listed in fair condition Tuesday at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis as the result of injuries sustained in Monday’s accident on the Baesler’s Market parking lot.

    July 29, 2014

  • Semi driver cited for alcohol use

    A commercial vehicle driver has been placed out of service after he tested positive for alcohol consumption during a Tuesday morning traffic stop in Sullivan County.

    July 29, 2014

  • Church to give out school backpacks

    United Methodist Temple will stage its first-ever Back-2-School Bash from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 9.
    The church is located at 5301 S. U.S. 41.

    July 29, 2014

  • Elderly woman in fair condition after accident in Baesler’s lot

    An 80-year-old Terre Haute woman is listed in fair condition today at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis as the result of injuries sustained in Monday’s accident on the Baesler’s Market parking lot.

    July 29, 2014

  • 2 women survive ordeal along Indiana rail bridge

    BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — A video camera captured the terrifying plight of two women who became trapped on an 80-foot-high railroad bridge by a freight train that surprised them as they walked along the tracks.

    July 29, 2014

  • Vigo County Jail Log: July 29, 2014

    The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Monday and Tuesday, based on jail records.

    July 29, 2014

  • Illinois to ask voters about taxing millionaires

    BERWYN, Ill. (AP) — Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation allowing voters to weigh in on whether Illinois millionaires should pay more income tax.

    July 29, 2014

  • Illinois woman dies retrieving phone from fire

    BARTONVILLE, Ill. (AP) — Authorities say a central Illinois woman is dead after running back into her burning home to get her cell phone. A police officer who tried to save her was hospitalized.

    July 29, 2014

  • Ivy Tech names Jeff Fanter senior VP, Anne Valentine VP

    Ivy Tech Community College President Thomas J. Snyder announced the promotion of Jeff Fanter to the role of senior vice president for student experience, communications and marketing and Anne Valentine to the role of vice president for student experience and customer service.

    July 29, 2014

  • Change in traffic patterns at U.S. 41 intersection improvement project

    VIGO COUNTY, Ind. – The Indiana Department of Transportation reminds motorists the intersection improvement project on U.S. 41 from just south of Interstate 70 to just south of Johnson Drive has switched traffic phases. Traffic is prohibited from turning left off of U.S. 41 at both Johnson and Davis Drives.

    July 29, 2014

  • IU commemorating WWI centennial in 2014-15

    INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana University plans to spend the upcoming academic year exploring the lingering impact of World War I.

    July 29, 2014

  • Indiana higher ed chief rolls out class load campaign

    INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s higher education commissioner wants college students to get the message that they should take at least 15 credit hours each semester if they expect to graduate on time.

    July 29, 2014

  • Indiana higher ed chief rolls out class load campaign

    Indiana's higher education commissioner wants college students to get the message that they should take at least 15 credit hours each semester if they expect to graduate on time.

    July 29, 2014

  • MET 072814 BUS MEYERROSE.jpg Bus safety features

    New safety features on South Vermillion School Corp. buses have led to fewer disciplinary problems and fewer incidents of motorists illegally passing stopped school buses, officials say.

    July 29, 2014 3 Photos

  • Pendergast.jpg Humvee driver says foot caused fatal accident

    Kyle Pendergast, 22, the Terre Haute driver of a black Humvee charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing the death of a teenager, has told police he could not turn the wheel before the vehicle flipped in a field in an early Saturday morning accident.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET 072814 CONTAMINATED Cleaner may have contaminated water

    Groundwater and soil testing is set to begin within a week to learn whether toxic chemicals might have seeped into the wells of a small southside neighborhood and even beyond.

    July 29, 2014 3 Photos

  • Housing Authority’s Warren Village nearing completion

    Construction on the newest Terre Haute Housing Authority property – Warren Village – should wrap up next month, a housing authority official said Monday.

    July 29, 2014

  • rush-hr.jpg Observers predict ‘wide open’ process of picking next chief

    State Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Dickson surprised observers in June when he decided to step down after a brief tenure as the state’s top judge.

    July 29, 2014 2 Photos

  • Multi-vehicle accident in parking lot

    A woman was hospitalized with injuries after a multiple-vehicle accident late Monday morning in the Baesler’s Market parking lot on Poplar Street

    July 29, 2014

  • Old National acquires Michigan bank

    Evansville-based Old National Bancorp and Grand Rapids-based Founders Financial Corp. said Monday they have finalized an agreement under which Old National will acquire Founders through a stock and cash merger.

    July 28, 2014

  • Ohio man falls to death at Cataract Falls rec area

    Indiana conservation officers are investigating the death of an Ohio man that occurred at about 4:10 p.m. Sunday at Cataract Falls State Recreation Area in Owen County.

    July 28, 2014

  • 65,000 chickens die in rural Indiana fire

    WARSAW, Ind. (AP) — Thousands of chickens have been killed in a fire on a northern Indiana farm.

    July 28, 2014

  • One person hospitalized after parking lot pile-up

    A woman was hospitalized with injuries after an accident late this morning in the Baesler’s Market parking lot.

    July 28, 2014

  • Indiana teachers worry about revamped ISTEP test

    INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana teachers are heading back to classrooms starting this week and face the daunting task of preparing students for a standardized test that’s been retooled three times since 2009.

    July 28, 2014

Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre US Ready to Slap New Sanctions on Russia Girl Struck by Plane on Florida Beach Dies Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Kerry: Not Worried About Israeli Criticism House to Vote on Slimmed-down Bill for Border Boater Rescued From Edge of Kentucky Dam Raw: Earthquake Rocks Mexico's Gulf Coast Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Judge OKs Record-setting $2B Sale of Clipper Mother of 2 Makes NFL Cheerleading Squad at 40 Fox Dons 'Bondage Strap' Skirt at Comic-Con Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix Gaza Official: at Least 100 Killed Tuesday Raw: Airstrike Shatters Fragile Calm in Gaza Raw: NH Man Held on $1M in Teen's Kidnapping
NDN Video
Weird 'Wakudoki' Dance Launches Promotional Competition Two women barely avoid being hit by train Chris Pratt Adorably Surprises Kids at a 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Screening Chapter Two: Designing for Naomi Watts NOW TRENDING: Peyton Manning dancing at practice "The Bachelorette" Makes Her Decision Thieves pick the wrong gas station to rob Golden Sisters on '50 Shades' trailer: 'Look At That Chest!' Staten Island Man's Emotional Dunk Over NYPD Car - @TheBuzzeronFOX GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH) She's Back! See Paris Hilton's New Carl's Jr. Ad Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity