Thanksgiving, Turkey Reds and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown

What better season to talk about the magnificent T-3 Turkey Reds baseball card set than Thanksgiving?

Collectors argue about which among the Turkey Reds, the T-206 or the Topps 1952 sets is most stunning. I’ve seen examples of all three cards side-by-side-by and it’s hard to choose against Turkey Reds.

In terms of their art work, both the tobacco card sets dwarf the Topps.

From mid-1910 through mid-1911, packs of Turkey Reds, Old Mill and Fez brand cigarettes contained coupons redeemable for a full-color, cabinet sized (5 3/4″ X 8″) premium picturing one of 100 different baseball players and 26 boxers. See the boxing set here. The cards survive as wonderful pieces of art and history.

In the first series of T-3s, numbered 1-50, is a pitcher known to virtually every baseball fan because of his unusual name and nickname—Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown. See Brown’s #1 card here. And—sign of our times—visit his website here.

Brown, dubbed “Three Finger” because of a childhood farm injury, was the dominant pitcher for the Chicago Cubs from 1906-1912. During that period, Brown won 20 or more games six times and was part of two World Series championships.

Brown had a curve ball that Ty Cobb called the “most devastating” that he had ever faced. Although Brown didn’t have what could be called a traditional fastball, he threw his pitches from various angles and showed batters different looks within their same turn at the plate.

The rivalry between Brown and the Giants’ Christy Mathewson was legendary stuff. Giants’ manager John McGraw said the two were the best he had ever seen. In their 25 matchups, Brown had a slim career 13-11 edge on Mathewson with one no-decision.

In one of baseball’s oddities, Brown and Mathewson ended their Hall of Fame careers by facing off against each other on September 4, 1916. Billed as the final meeting between baseball’s greatest hurlers, Mathewson prevailed in an atypical 10-8 slugfest.

Mathewson on Brown:

Brown is my idea of the almost perfect pitcher… It will usually be found at the end of a season, that he has taken part in more key games than any other pitcher in baseball.

Brown finished his major league career with a 239-130 record, 1375 strikeouts and a 2.06 ERA, the third best ERA in Major League Baseball history amongst players inducted into the Hall of Fame, after Ed Walsh and Addie Joss. His 2.06 ERA is also the best for any pitcher with more than 200 wins.

Following Brown’s retirement, he returned to his home in Terre Haute, Indiana.  In addition to coaching and managing, Brown continued to pitch in the minor leagues and local exhibition games for more than a decade. According to his biography, Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story, Brown was still masterful at age 51. In a 1928 exhibition game against the famous House of David, Brown pitched three innings for the home team and struck out all nine batters.

From 1920 to 1945 Brown ran a filling station, as they were quaintly called decades ago, that also served as a town gathering place and an unofficial museum. Brown was also a frequent guest at Old-Timers’ games in Chicago.

On Brown’s website, Ferguson Jenkins offers a wonderful quote that explains why baseball has such an important place in our hearts. Said Jenkins:

It’s interesting that Mordecai Brown pitched fifty years before I showed up, and yet we stood on the same field. We both hurled a ball toward a batter standing in virtually the same location…… We both won a lot of games for the Cubs; he won the second highest number of games for the club, and I’m number five. We both managed to pitch several shutouts in the Windy City. It’s my honor to have been the pitcher who broke one of Three Finger’s records. Until I finished my sixth consecutive season of more than 20 wins, in 1972, Mordecai had been the only Cub to do it.

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