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GET A PIECE OF BASEBALL HISTORY

Any knowledgeable baseball fan
will tell you that the big league baseball teams never use brand new
baseballs in a game. They're too shiny to play with. So, what do umpires use
to prep the balls and dull the shine?

New Jersey mud.

For nearly three quarters of a century, a special variety of Jersey mud, Lena
Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud, has been removing the sheen from baseballs for
just about every professional baseball team in the country.

It all began in 1938 when an umpire complained to Lena Blackburne, a third
base coach for the old Philadelphia Athletics, about the sorry condition of the
baseballs used by the American League. Back then a ball was prepped simply with
mud made of water and dirt from the playing field. The result? The ball's cover
was too soft, leaving it open for tampering. Something was needed to take off
the shine but not soften the cover.

Blackburne took on the challenge. Next time he returned to his home in
Burlington County, he checked out the mud along tributaries of the Delaware
River until he found some muck (the whereabouts of the mud hole is still a dark
secret) with a texture he felt would do the job. Taking a batch to the
Athletics' field house, he rubbed some balls with the stuff. It worked like a
charm! What's more, it had no odor and didn't turn the balls black. The umpires
were happy, and Lena Blackburne was in the mud supply business.

Soon the entire American League was using the amazing gunk. Later, the National
League took to using it. 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, along with the secret of the mud's source, was
willed to a close pal, John Haas, who had worked with Blackburne on his
mud-finding exploits. Haas eventually turned over the enterprise to his
son-in-law, Burns Bintliff. Burns in turn passed it on to son Jim and his
family.

Each July the Bintliff crew heads a boat out to the "ole mud hole" and scoops
up hundreds of pounds of the "Magic Mud", enough for one season. Then the
precious product rest 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.

Does Jim Bintliff wave a magic wand over the mud during the winter, or add
some mysterious ingredients to it? That too is a dark secret. He'll never tell.
What counts is that the muck, described as resembling a cross between chocolate
pudding and whipped cold cream, really works! Other kinds of mud and even
mechanical methods have been tried to de-slick baseballs, but they couldn't make
the grade.

So, when the umpire yells "Play ball!" rest assured, good New Jersey mud will
be part of the game.