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Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud
Lena Blackburne's Baseball Rubbing Mud: balm to ball players everywhere.  Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images
Lena Blackburne's Baseball Rubbing Mud: balm to ball players everywhere. Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Back in 1938, a Philadelphia Athletics coach named Lena Blackburne began mixing various batches of mud and water to create a substance that would dull the surface of glossy new baseballs, making them easier to grip. And, of course, it had to work without breaking the rules of baseball. Umpires had previously tried shoe polish, tobacco juice and the dirt beneath their feet to fix the balls, but while these substances did, indeed, dull the balls' surfaces, they also damaged the baseballs in the process [source: Bintliff].

Blackburne's eventual concoction -- crafted from rich mud found in southern New Jersey near the Delaware River (at his favorite fishing hole, to be exact) -- didn't wreck the balls. The Athletics' chief umpire gave it a thumbs-up, and soon other American League teams began clamoring for some. National League teams followed suit, and soon Lena Blackburne's Rubbing Mud was famous [source: Bintliff].

Since Blackburne had no kids to inherit his business, he passed it on to a childhood friend, whose grandson, Jim Bintliff, now runs the company. Bintliff says every Major League Baseball team uses the product today, and he makes five or six trips to the mud hole annually to fulfill demand. But he won't say exactly where the revered mud hole is. "The mud is on public land, but we've always kept the location a secret to keep people from trampling it" [source: Bintliff].


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