Jamie Moyer, the venerable Philadelphia left-hander, beat Washington on Wednesday to post career win No. 240. Along the way, he left in his wake the player with the single greatest name in the colorful, often absurd history of baseball.
Come to think of it, the word “venerable” hardly does Moyer justice. The Venerable Bede, well, he was venerable. Jamie Moyer, he’s simply ridiculous.
The Venerable Bede, left, and The Ridiculous Jamie Moyer
Did Moyer really strike out Ted Williams when he was a callow rookie, leaving the infuriated Splendid Splinter ranting about his “grade-school” fastball and “sorority house” curveball? Is it true Moyer called Babe Ruth a “drunken, whoremongering fat-ass” in spring training in 1935?
No, those stories, like many of the legends that surround Moyer, are apocryphal. But he’s still pitching and winning games at age 45, and he’s doing it with natural gifts that wouldn’t overwhelm a high school coach in Peoria, Ill.
Since Moyer seems bent on pitching until dies of natural causes or spontaneously ascends to heaven in the Rapture, he’s a natural choice to serve as distinguished docent in our fledgling online baseball history museum.
Thus we bring you installment No. 1 of “A Walk through History with Jamie Moyer.”
Today we take a look at the man Moyer passed for good Wednesday, 239-game winner Mordecai Peter Centennial “Three-Finger” Brown.
More than just a name, Mr. Brown. But oh, what a name!
Mordecai! Peter! Centennial! Three-Finger! Brown!
(Editor’s note: There’s a character with a similar name who was an original contributor to this site. He is not related to the famous baseball pitcher. His whereabouts are unknown. Last we heard he was wrestling alligators in the swamps of Louisiana with his old pal, Rube Waddell. God bless him.)
The wonderful, majestic Mordecai Peter Centennial Three-Finger Brown was born in 1876 (thus the “Centennial”). In a name, he exposes one of the most depressing problems with baseball nowadays: Dull names. Uninspired, hackneyed nicknames.
A-Rod? ManRam? J-Roll?
Insipid, at best. Criminally lame, at worst.
The death of the family farm is partially to blame. Not many country boys refashion their God-given hands in a corn shredders and survive to become Hall of Fame pitchers anymore.
Perhaps more should, though. Mordecai’s misfortune became an unlikely blessing. Not only did he permanently alter his makeup in the corn grinder, but a subsequent hog-chasing accident added further uniquenesss to his pitching repetoire.
The unorthodox manner in which he was forced to grip the ball after sacrificing his index finger to the agricultural gods created an unusual amount of topsin and turned him into one of the game’s early “groundball pitchers.” Some say his curveball was a cross between a split-fingered fastball and a knuckleball. Most, like Ty Cobb, agreed it was difficult to hit.
“That old paw served me pretty well in its time,” Brown said. “It gave me a firmer grip on the ball, so I could spin it over the hump. It gave me a greater dip.”
No, not many mangled farm boys pitch in four World Series in five years anymore. Not many boys from anywhere pitch in the World Series wearing a Chicago Cubs uniform.
At least not since Three-Finger Brown left the stage.
Old Mordecai beat the Detroit Tigers in the decisive game of the 1907 World Series, then came back the following October and beat the Tigers twice as the Cubs won again. By now you probably know 1908 was the last time the Cubs won a World Series. Why, even the Philadelphia Phillies have managed to win one World Series since then.
The Cubs last World Series triumph would have been in 1907 had Mordecai not saved them in 1908. That and Merkle’s ill-starred boner. Brown came on in relief in the first inning to get the Cubs out of trouble before a frothing, overflowing crowd at the Polo Grounds and beat Christy Mathewson and the New York Giants in a virtual playoff in the final game of the 1908 season. That was the game that never would’ve been had it not been for Merkle’s Boner.
The less you know about that, the better.
Other fun facts about Mordecai: He hailed from Nyesville, Indiana, which is famous for, well, producing Mordecai Peter Centennial “Three-Finger” Brown.
He won, yes, 239 games. He lost 130. Had a 2.06 ERA.
Had he not given into the temptation to see just how sharp those knives in the shredder were, he would still have had a pretty sweet nickname. Mordecai “Miner” Brown worked in coal mines around Coxville, Ind., and played sandlot ball before hitting it big.
And finally, when he was Moyer’s age, Mordecai was running a filling station in Terre Haute, Ind.
Next: 240: Herb Pennock