Why a New Jersey Mudhole Contains Baseball's Dirtiest Secret

iStock
iStock

In 1938, the Philadelphia Athletics third-base coach Russell "Lena" Blackburne waded into a tidal tributary in the Delaware River and realized he was soaking in a solution for one of baseball's biggest problems.

Back in the 1930s, baseball was a much more dangerous sport than it is today. Newly made balls were slick, and pitchers had a hard time controlling their tosses to home plate. Teams tried to improve each ball's grip by scuffing the hide with bleacher dirt, tobacco juice, shoe polish, or even licorice. This was less than ideal. Umpires complained that these applications made the ball easier to tamper with—indeed, these alterations are illegal today because they can alter the physics of a ball's movement—and players moaned that the applications were inconsistent.

Those inconsistencies had consequences. Over the course of a game, scuffed-up balls often got much dirtier and softer—making them not only more difficult to control, but also more difficult to see. With the invention of batting helmets still decades away, ballplayers were taking a risk with their life each time they stepped into the batter's box. In fact, a Cleveland Indians shortstop named Ray Chapman was killed in 1920 after he was beamed in the head by an errant pitch.

So when Coach Blackburne came across a slick patch of mud near his hometown swimming hole, his mind went straight to the playing field. The goop was gritty, but it resembled a mixture of "chocolate pudding and whipped cold cream." He toted some of the gunk back home and found that, sure enough, it smudged the ball perfectly, enhancing the grip without damaging the leather. When Blackburne showed the result to American League umpires, they gave the application a thumbs-up. By the 1950s, every major league team was using it.

Now before every major and minor league game (as well as many college games), an umpire or clubhouse attendant wipes a light coat of Blackburne's magic mud on each ball used. In fact, it's a rule in the major leagues. According to MLB Rule 3.01, all regulation baseballs much be "properly rubbed so that the gloss is removed" [PDF].

The mud even has fans outside of baseball. According to The Washington Post, "half of NFL teams buy Lena Blackburne mud to help their players grip the ball."

Though it's rumored to be located somewhere on the banks of the Delaware River near Palmyra, New Jersey, the mud hole's exact location remains a closely guarded secret. Only one person, Jim Bintliff, the mud's solitary farmer, knows exactly where to find it—and he refuses to give clues as to its location. "Does Jim Bintliff wave a magic wand over the mud during the winter, or add some mysterious ingredients to it?" the mud's website asks. "That too is a dark secret. He'll never tell."

What Happens to the Losing Team's Pre-Printed Championship Shirts?

Adam Glanzman, Getty Images
Adam Glanzman, Getty Images

Following a big win in the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, or any other major sporting event, fans want to get their hands on championship merchandise as quickly as possible. To meet this demand and cash in on the wallet-loosening "We’re #1" euphoria, manufacturers and retailers produce and stock two sets of T-shirts, hats, and other merchandise that declare each team the champ.

On Super Bowl Sunday, that means apparel for the winner—either the New England Patriots or the Los Angeles Rams—will quickly fill clothing racks and gets tossed to players on the field once the game concludes. But what happens to the losing team's clothing? It's destined for charity.

Good360, a charitable organization based in Alexandria, Virginia, handles excess consumer merchandise and distributes it to those in need overseas. The losing team's apparel—usually shirts, hats, and sweatshirts—will be held in inventory locations across the U.S. Following the game, Good360 will be informed of exactly how much product is available and will then determine where the goods can best be of service.

Good360 chief marketing officer Shari Rudolph tells Mental Floss there's no exact count just yet. But in the past, the merchandise has been plentiful. Based on strong sales after the Chicago Bears’s 2007 NFC Championship win, for example, Sports Authority printed more than 15,000 shirts proclaiming a Bears Super Bowl victory well before the game even started. And then the Colts beat the Bears, 29-17.

Good360 took over the NFL's excess goods distribution in 2015. For almost two decades prior, an international humanitarian aid group called World Vision collected the unwanted items for MLB and NFL runners-up at its distribution center in Pittsburgh, then shipped them overseas to people living in disaster areas and impoverished nations. After losing Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, Arizona Cardinals gear was sent to children and families in El Salvador. In 2010, after the New Orleans Saints defeated Indianapolis, the Colts gear printed up for Super Bowl XLIV was sent to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

In 2011, after Pittsburgh lost to the Green Bay Packers, the Steelers Super Bowl apparel went to Zambia, Armenia, Nicaragua, and Romania.

Fans of the Super Bowl team that comes up short can take heart: At least the spoils of losing will go to a worthy cause.

An earlier version of this story appeared in 2009. Additional reporting by Jake Rossen.

All images courtesy of World Vision, unless otherwise noted.

Super Bowl 2019: How to Live Stream the Big Game

Andy Lyons, Getty Images
Andy Lyons, Getty Images

How big is the Super Bowl? Last year, 103.4 million viewers watched as the Philadelphia Eagles pulled an upset victory over the New England Patriots. Previous editions from 2010 to 2017 rank among the 10 most-watched television programs of all time, dominating a list with only one non-NFL entry: the 1983 series finale of M*A*S*H.

This Sunday’s Super Bowl LIII meeting between the returning Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams also promises to be a tremendous attraction for viewers, but the 6:30 p.m. ET kickoff on CBS won’t necessarily require you to have a broadcast antenna or cable subscription. There are a number of ways to live stream the big game.

You can point your browser to CBSSports.com, where the network will be offering the entire event at no charge. If you prefer to use an app, the CBS Sports App can be downloaded and used on your Android or iOS smartphone or via one of the major TV devices like Roku, Chromecast, or Amazon Fire TV.

CBS also has a paid streaming service, CBS All Access, that will broadcast the game to subscribers. Why opt for the $9.99 service when the game is free elsewhere? CBS All Access offers a huge library of content, including original series like Star Trek: Discovery and The Good Fight. It also offers a one-week free trial.

Want more options? Both Hulu and YouTube are rolling out live television options with local affiliates. You’ll have to check the services to see whether CBS is one of the options in your area. Hulu charges $44.99 a month for more than 60 channels of live television. YouTube’s services, dubbed YouTubeTV, run $40. You can also find similar cable bundle-type plans with DirecTV Now and Playstation Vue.

If you’re unsure which to choose, remember that not all of them carry Animal Planet, which will broadcast Puppy Bowl XV at 3 p.m. ET.

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