I suspect that when Lena Blackburne glanced down at his statistics, he came to the gut-wrenching conclusion that his numbers just might not be Hall-worthy. After all, with a .214 lifetime average, four home runs, and 139 career RBI over a 19-year span, the Hall of Fame simply wasn't knocking down his door.
Not blessed with the God-given talent of his White Sox teammates, including Hall of Famer Eddie Collins, Blackburne resorted to some good ol' fashioned Yankee ingenuity and simply took what the earth gave him to pave his way into Cooperstown.
A place where Lena Blackburne's Baseball Rubbing Mud resides today.
As baseball lore tells it, our story begins in 1938, when an umpire was "chewing the fat" with Blackburne after a game. He complained to Blackburne, then third base coach of the Philadelphia Athletics, about the deplorable condition of the baseballs used by the American League.
In those days balls were prepped with mud made from water and dirt from the playing field or using the players' tobacco juice spit. This is, in fact, how the tradition began of passing the ball around the infield after a strikeout.
When using the infield mix of mud or tobacco spit, the ball's cover became too soft and opened the door for tampering. Baseball needed a compound that would preserve the shine on the ball but wouldn't soften the hide.
Blackburne returned to his home in Burlington County, NJ and waded through the mud along tributaries of the Delaware River. He came upon some thick gray muck that possessed a texture that he felt would work.
He took a bucketful to the Athletics' field house and rubbed up a few balls, and it worked like magic. The mud was odorless and didn't turn the balls black, much to the delight of the umpires and the players.
From there, Lena Blackburne and his Rubbing Mud were one step closer to Cooperstown.
To this day, Major League Baseball rule 3.01c states that before a ball is put in play, an umpire must rub down the required number of balls to minimize the gloss of newness. This ensures that it's not too slippery and won't glare in the bright summer sun.
Though the rule doesn't specifically state what is used to rub down the balls, every team uses Lena Blackburne's rubbing mud.
Upon his death, Blackburne's business, along with the secret of the mud's source, was passed on to John Haas, who had worked with Blackburne on his mud-finding junkets. Haas later turned over the enterprise to his son-in-law, Burns Bintliff. Burns in turn passed it on to son, Jim, and his family.
Though the location of the mud hole in South Jersey remains a secret still today, Jim Bintliff and his wife, Joanne, supply the mud to the Major Leagues and nearly every other league across the country.
"I come from a family of nine," explained Bintliff, who operates a printing press when not harvesting mud. "I knew the business would be passed to one of us, but I didn't know I'd be the guy."
Bintliff began harvesting mud with his Grandfather when he was only nine years old.
"In those days, we'd harvest once a year in the fall, and we'd spend about a half a day harvesting. Now we do five or six smaller trips."
These days, Bintliff gets up early and takes his truck to his secret mud hole under the dark of the New Jersey dawn, equipped with eight to 10 five-gallon buckets, and harvests the mud much like a farmer harvests a crop.
He sells about 1,500 pounds of mud a year in eight, 16, and 32-ounce containers and makes about $20,000 a year selling to all major and minor league teams and many college and youth organizations.
"We used to go to trade shows but found out that most of the people there were already our customers."
His website also carries his own line of "Got Mud" t-shirts and polo shirts, as well as a handful of other baseball t-shirt designs.
To date, no one has been able to manufacture a better product than Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud, though Bintliff shares a story about Rawlings' attempt to manufacture mud.
"They tried to duplicate it and actually sold mud for several years. It didn't take off, I guess, so they stopped."
"Rawlings has a traveling caravan that goes around today, showing how to make a baseball," he adds. "The final step shows how to rub a baseball. Makes me proud that they use my mud and not theirs."
I asked him if his wife makes him wipe his feet when he returns from a trip to the river. He laughed and said, "No, but she makes me hose myself off in the garage."
Now is that any way to treat the owner of a baseball monopoly, the president of Lena Blackburne's "Hall of Fame" Rubbing Mud? TC
Todd Civin is a freelance writer for Bleacher Report and Seamheads. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for comment or hire. He is also a supporter of A Glove of Their Own, the award-winning children's story that is capturing the heart of the nation by teaching sharing through baseball.
AGOTO has recently been adopted by Dick Drago, Luis Tiant, Phil Niekro, Ed Herrmann, and The Joe Niekro Foundation as part of their fundraising campaigns. Visit agloveoftheirown.com and purchase the book using today's donor code LTF223, The Luis Tiant Foundation.
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