Cleat Geeks

New Jersey Mud

mudding-baseball1Baseball teams never use brand new baseballs in a game because they’re too shiny to play with. Umpires use New Jersey mud to prep and dull the shine of the balls. Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud has been used by every Major League and Minor League Baseball Organization for nearly 75 years.

It began in 1938 when an umpire complained to Lena Blackburne, a third base coach for the old Philadelphia Athletics, about the condition of the baseballs used by the American League. Back in those days, a ball was prepped with mud made of water and dirt from the playing field. But the ball’s cover was too soft, leaving it open for tampering. Something was needed to remove the shine, but not soften the ball’s cover. The next time Blackburne returned to his home in Burlington County, he took on the challenge. He checked out the mud along the Delaware River until he found some muck with bucketa texture he felt would fix the problem. He took a batch to the Athletics’ field house and rubbed some of the balls with it. It worked, had no odor, and didn’t turn the balls black. The umpires were very happy and Lena Blackburne was in the mud supply business.Lena-Ty-Eddie

The entire American League began using the gunk and later, the National League. Before Blackburne’s death in the late 50’s, his baseball rubbing mud was being used by every major and most minor leagues in the United States. Blackburne’s mud business and the mud’s source was left with a close friend, John Haas, who had helped Blackburne on his mud-finding adventure. Haas eventually turned over the enterprise to his son-in-law, Burns Bintliff. Then Burns passed it on to his son Jim’s family.

Each July, Jim and his family head out on a boat and scoop up hundreds of pounds of the mud, enough for the season. Then the mud rests in barrels until the next spring when it’s packed and shipped to each of the major league teams, minor league teams, most independent leagues, and many colleges in time for opening day. So next time you’re watching a game and you hear the umpire yell “Play ball!” remember New Jersey mud is a part of it.

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