PHILADELPHIA – Mud is found at low tide, shoveled from the banks of the waterway and put in buckets to be returned to a garage on the Jersey Shore.
It has been harvested – this is how Jim Bintliff describes the act of digging mud – in South Jersey for over 80 years since one of Connie Mack’s assistant coaches discovered he could help. to grab baseballs.
And while Major League Baseball is cracking down this month on pitchers using foreign substances to heal balls, this mysterious slime remains the only league-approved agent to be applied to baseballs.
But where exactly is it found?
“The way I describe it and the way it has always been described is that it is a tributary of the Delaware River on the Jersey side,” Bintliff said. “It’s the best I can do.”
Mud – officially called Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud – is used by all major and minor league teams.
The official MLB rulebook says that every ball must be “properly rubbed so that the shine is removed.” And before each game, a clubhouse attendant scrubs the balls to be used that night with the South Jersey mud.
It takes Dan O’Rourke, the Phillies’ head of umpire and umpiring services, about 30 minutes to scrub the balls before each game at Citizens Bank Park. The mud removes the shine from the baseball, exposes the leather and gives the pitcher better grip.
Other companies have tried to replicate mud, and Major League Baseball recently tried to produce a baseball that no longer needs to be rubbed with mysterious mud. But both have failed.
“It’s the geology of mud,” said Bintliff, who owns the business and runs it with his wife, Joanne. “The properties of it. It’s a really fine and super fine abrasive. It’s all in the mineral content of the mud. They haven’t been able to replicate it and they haven’t been able to. to replace it. “
The use of foreign substances by pitchers has emerged this season as baseball’s latest cheating scandal, leading the league to announce this week that pitchers will be suspended for 10 games if caught applying. substances on the balls.
Starting Monday, the referees will check pitchers throughout the game for sticky substances. Commissioner Rob Manfred said he had determined that “a new application of the foreign substances laws was necessary to level the playing field”.
Launchers had long used spit, pine tar, and sunscreen to get better grip on their pitches. But the recent use of advanced substances like Spider Tack – which is used to lift atlas stones in Strongman competitions – allowed throwers to maximize spin speed on their pitches.
“It became clear that the use of foreign substances generally turned into trying to get a better grip on the ball into something else – an unfair competitive advantage that creates a lack of action and an uneven playing field.” , said Manfred.
The offense has hit all-time lows this season in batting and strikeout average, leading Major League Baseball to curb the practice of spoofing baseballs in the hopes that it would inject more action into the game. a desperate game.
“It’s been a rule in baseball forever, and you’ve decided to start using it,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “Now they say you can’t, but you weren’t supposed to use it before. It’s an admission of guilt for me. “
Now MLB will try to make sure that the only foreign substance added to the ball is mud that is somewhere in South Jersey.
The Mud Story begins in 1938 when a referee complained to Philadelphia A’s third baseman Russell “Lena” Blackburne about the condition of the baseballs after they were prepped for the game. just using water and soil in the field.
The mixture made the blankets soft and easily weathered. So Blackburne, who grew up in Palmyra, tried to use mud from the same tributary to southern Jersey that Bintliff is now digging his crop on. It worked as the mud removed the shine from the bullet but softened the blanket.
Every team in the American League would soon be using Blackburne’s mud and eventually the National League was on board as well. Blackburne played eight-season games in the majors for four teams and coached the White Sox for two seasons before joining Mack’s staff.
Shortly before his death in 1968, Blackburne handed over the mud business to Bintliff’s grandfather, John Hass. The company then moved to Bintliff’s father, Burns Bintliff. The mud business became Jim Bintliff’s in 2000 and he calls it a labor of love.
“My grandfather gave it to him in 1965. I was 9 years old,” said Bintliff, who retired in 2015 from his job as a printing press operator after 33 years. “I remember going out the first time to help him get some mud. It’s so unique. I think it’s really neat and I feel like I’m part of the game. proud to be the guy who supplies the mud. I am proud to carry on the family tradition. “
The mud business grew outside of baseball, as Bintliff said half of NFL teams – and a growing list of universities – applied mud to their soccer balls.
“Dude, football kicks my ass,” he said.
Bintliffs do not advertise or sell sales pitches as the product is sold primarily by word of mouth.
Bintliff goes out seven or eight times a year for a harvest, driving his van from his home in Longport, NJ, to the same mud hole his grandfather used. It brings help and a good harvest, Bintliff said, can yield up to 20 five-gallon buckets full of mud.
He brings the mud back to his garage, filters it and washes it.
“That’s about it,” he said. “I like to compare it to wine. I let it age a bit. After five or six weeks after harvest, it’s ready to go.”
The mud is then packaged and sent to stadiums across the country. Every baseball this season, as it has for decades, is rubbed with Bintliff’s mud.
And if Major League Baseball’s crackdown is successful, that will be the only foreign substance added to the ball. But the league still won’t know where to find him.
“It’s pretty funny when you think about it,” Bintliff said. “I’m just that man in Longport with mud in his garage.”