Key to Every MLB Game: Mud Sourced From a Secret Spot

Inside the fascinating story of Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 31, 2022 9:15 AM CDT
Every MLB Ball Has Top-Secret Mud Rubbed on It
This ball has been rubbed with a special mud, just like all the others in the majors.   (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Every single major league baseball you've ever seen pitched, hit, or caught has had "mystical mud" rubbed into it. An MLB memo sent to teams last month specifies the precise way in which each brand-new ball should be mudded to make it grippable. And for decades, just a single mud had been permitted: Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud. As the New York Times reports, Russell "Lena" Blackburne was a major-league coach in the '30s when he heard an umpire gripe about the effort of readying new balls for use. He played around with mud from a Delaware River tributary nearby, "and found that it de-glossed the ball while mostly maintaining its whiteness," writes Dan Barry. Over time, every single team got on board.

The secret location where the mud hails from is known to few besides Jim Bintliff, whose grandfather was handed the reins from Blackburne prior to his death in 1968. Barry shares the broad strokes of Bintliff's process, which involves a 70-mile drive, simple work done with a shovel and buckets, and a four-week straining and odor-elimination process. It is no cash cow for him: Bintliff says each of the 30 MLB teams get 10 pounds of mud a year, with MLB paying a grand total of $20,000. Barry flags the most fascinating bit of this whole thing: that "a multi-billion-dollar enterprise applying science and analytics to nearly every aspect of the game ... ultimately depends on some geographically specific muck collected by a retiree with a gray ponytail, blurry arm tattoos and a flat-edged shovel." (Read the full story here.)

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