Why a New Jersey Mudhole Contains Baseball's Dirtiest Secret

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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."

Simone Biles Just Became the Most Decorated Female Gymnast in History

Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0 br
Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0 br

Simone Biles became a household name when she won four gold medals in gymnastics at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Three years later, she has proven that she's still among the best in the sport's history. At the 2019 Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, Biles won her 21st world champ medal—making her the most decorated female gymnast of all time, The New York Times reports.

The U.S. women's team competed at the event in order to retain their title of best in the world. Biles racked up the highest individual scores with her vault, balance beam, and floor routines, helping the U.S. earn an overall score of 172.330 points. The team bested Russia, the second-place team, by 5.801 points and won their seventh consecutive gold at a world competition or Olympics.

Biles was previously tied with Svetlana Khorkina for most world championship medals held by a female gymnast. She now holds the record for the women's sport, and is just two medals shy of male gymnast Vitaly Scherbo's record of 23.

At 22, Simone Biles has already made a historic impact on the sport. In 2013, she had a difficult new floor exercise move named after her—a double layout with a 180-degree turn at the end.

[h/t The New York Times]

Ski.com Wants to Pay You $2000 to Go on an Epic Ski Vacation

IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock via Getty Images
IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock via Getty Images

The northern Rockies have already been hit with a massive snowstorm, and that means ski season is almost upon us. This year, Ski.com is planning to make dreams come true for not one, not two, but 12 lucky skiers.

Travel + Leisure reports that the ski vacation booking service will send two people to each of six top ski destinations, where they’ll ski their snow-loving little hearts out and document their adventures on social media. The trips are all-expenses-paid and then some; not only will skiers fly United Airlines and receive VIP resort experiences for free, they’ll also be given gear from Stio, Black Crows, Giro, and GoPro—plus a $2000 paycheck.

To apply, you have to choose one of the six destinations—Aspen Snowmass, Colorado; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Big Sky, Montana; Banff and Lake Louise, Canada; Chamonix, France; or Niseko, Japan—and create a 90-second video explaining why you’re the best person for the gig. If you’re thinking this is the perfect opportunity to try skiing for the first time ever, you might want to scope out a few bunny slopes on your own and apply for Ski.com’s Epic Dream Job next year: The listing asks that applicants be “able to ski and/or snowboard at an advanced intermediate level.”

Dan Sherman, Ski.com’s chief marketing officer, told Travel + Leisure that the decision to add 11 more winners was partly because “a very passionate community formed online in support of the [nearly 1200] applicants” last year. And, since two people will be sent to each location, you can even apply with a friend.

If you’re interested, submit your video here before October 29, and check out these ways to train off the slopes while you wait for the winners to be announced on November 19.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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