This article from CNN provides some history: "On August 16, 1920, Ray Chapman, a shortstop for the Cleveland Indians, was crowding the plate in the top of the fifth inning when he was struck in the head by an underhand curve ball from New York Yankees pitcher Carl Mays. Days later, Chapman became the first and only player killed by a pitch in Major League history." Umpires tried everything to get the factory sheen off -- tobacco juice, shoe polish, dirt from the infield -- but it all harmed the leather of the ball. "Lena Blackburne, a manager for the Philadelphia Athletics, had an idea. He cured and aged mud from a fishing hole near his home and took it back to the Athletics clubhouse." By 1938, every team in the MLB used Blackburne's "magic mud."
Sourced from a secret fishing hole in New Jersey along the Delaware River, the mud apparently has the consistency of cold cream or pudding (you can watch a video about the collection process here). You'd think that with all of today's technological advances, we wouldn't have to rely on secretly sourced mud for that perfect grip. But apparently nothing else does the job so well -- or for so cheap. In an interview on NPR's All Things Considered, Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud's owner Jim Bintloff relayed that he sells an 8-oz container for $20, and a 32-oz container for $58 (enough to get one major league team through the entire season). "I'm sure they spend more on mustard," Buntloff says.
But can Bintliff make a living off selling dirt? "I still work a regular 'real job,'" he laments. "Dirt is on the side." Money aside, it's interesting to call attention to a not well known fact about a sole supplier responsible for a part of one of the most American pastime's supply chains -- with little to no risk involved in supply.
- Sheena Moore