Baseball Rubbing Mud

Every baseball used by every major league team is coated in mud from the Delaware River.

One of the problems with brand new baseballs is that their clean surface makes them slippery to handle, especially for pitchers. Following the 1920 death of Cleveland Indian Ray Chapman by an accidental pitch to the head, Major League Baseball created rule 3.01c requiring umpires to “remove the gloss” from baseballs before the game, to help improve the pitcher’s grip. Teams tried a variety of methods but had mixed results. Enter Lena Blackburne.

Born in 1886 Pennsylvania, Russell “Lena” Blackburne was a baseball player, coach, and manager. In the 1930s while he was the third-base coach for the Philadelphia Athletics an umpire complained to him about this grip problem and how there wasn’t a good solution. Blackburne went in search of a material that could be applied to new baseballs and he found the answer in mud.

Lena Blackburne, inventor of baseball rubbing mud.
Baseballs after they have been treated with Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud.

Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud

Blackburne collected mud from the Delaware River near Palmyra, New Jersey (coincidentally, close to where he lived). The exact location is a guarded secret. He took this mud to the Athletics clubhouse and they tried it on baseballs. It didn’t soften the surface of the ball, it didn’t discolor the leather too darkly, it didn’t smell, it provided grip, and the umpires approved.

Lena Blackburne began to sell this mud to teams around the American League – he refused to sell to the National League teams as he was ardent supporter of the American League. After his death in 1968 the Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud company began to sell to the National League and today every team in Major League Baseball uses the product on every baseball.

With some buckets and a shovel Jim Bintliff collects mud from the Delaware River to be packaged as baseball rubbing mud.

Baseball Organs

The organ became a part of early movie theaters and then moved over to entertain baseball fans

Hot dogs, the seventh inning stretch, and the organ are all a part of the summertime ritual of baseball. But how did the organ end up in baseball? Organs became a part of baseball game entertainment because, in the early 20th century, organs were played in theaters to provide music for silent films. Since they became associated with entertainment, baseball stadiums eventually took the next step and incorporated the organ into their games. On April 26, 1941, Chicago’s Wrigley Field became the first baseball stadium to feature an organ (and they still feature a live organ, not a digital recording).

A feminist baseball anthem

Probably the most well known baseball song performed on the organ is Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Most teams feature the song (usually just the chorus) during the 7th inning stretch. The song was written in 1908 by Tin Pan Alley songwriters Jack Norworth & Albert Von Tilzer, neither of whom had ever been to a baseball game. The chorus speaks of the love of the game, but it’s the two verses that bookend the chorus that are groundbreaking.

The song is about a woman named Katie Casey whose young man asks if she wants to see a show, but as a sports fan she would rather go to a baseball game. She’s “baseball mad,” knows the players names, she argues with the umpire from the stands, she leads a chant to raise the home team’s spirits, etc – she does all of this as a woman in 1908. The character of Katie Casey was based on outspoken suffragist Trixie Friganza, a vaudeville star who also in a relationship with Norworth at the time. The early 20th century suffragist spirit of confidence & equality typically associated with politics, is brought into the arena of sports, which was was also traditionally just for men. So while most people know the song’s chorus as an ode to baseball, the full song’s feminist message makes it more important than just a sports song.

An added bonus: in the Wrigley Field tradition of special guests leading the crowd in the 7th inning stretch, Cookie Monster singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game.