Baseball Rubbing Mud
Photo of Lena Blackburne's baseball card.   Photo of Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud.
(L) Lena Blackburne's baseball card for when he played
for the
Chicago White Sox; (R) Photo of the mud.

Why Mud Baseballs?

The sheen on new baseballs makes them slippery. In the 1920s, Ray Chapman died after being hit by an errant pitch. After the tragedy, teams started to look for what could be used on baseballs to give pitchers a better grip and more control.

First they used the juice of chewing tobacco, but the umpires griped about applying that gross substance to balls before every game.

Mud made of water and dirt from the playing field was then used. But, it didn't have the right consistency.

Russell Aubrey "Lena" Blackburne, a coach with Connie Mack’s old Philadelphia Athletics during the 1930s, looked for an alternative.

As the story goes, Blackburne enjoyed fishing a Delaware River tributary in New Jersey when he was younger. He revisited the spot and scooped up some mud from the creek. He tried it out on a shiny new ball -- an experiment that would alter the course of our National Pastime.

The mud, described as "smooth and creamy, but with a fine grit," worked better than the juice!

Soon, all American League teams were using this mud, and the National League quickly followed suit.

Lena Blackburne passed away and willed the secret to a close friend, whose family has been collecting and providing mud to teams ever since

Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud is still used throughout Major League Baseball to rough up the six or seven dozen new balls prepared for every game. In fact, it is the only legal substance that can be added to balls.

All minor league clubs and a few colleges use the mud, too. In fact, a team will go through about three or four pounds of it every season.

Others have tried to replicate the mud's unique consistency, but to date, nothing has come close.

The special connection between America's favorite pastime and the Delaware River Basin lives on. 

More Mud Info from DRBC

Learn how to mud a baseball with former Phillies Pitcher Cole Irvin!



DRBC and the Iron Pigs Team Up, Teach Baseball's Muddy Connection to the Delaware River (June 2019)

Baseball's Dirty Side (pdf)

Related Resources

National Baseball Hall of Fame: Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud a Secret of the Game

NBC News, Oct. 2014: "Baseball Has a Dirty Little Secret: Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud"

WHYY News, Oct. 2011: "All MLB Baseballs Get Treatment From South Jersey Mud"

ESPN, April 2010: "Mud Plays Part in Game of Baseball"

CNN, October 2009: "Harvesting Baseball's 'Magic Mud'"

National Public Radio, April 2009: "Secret Dirt's Pivotal Role In Baseball"