Photograph of baseball player Lena Blackburne of the Chicago White Sox team. Photo dates to 1915.
Blackburne made an unusual and valuable contribution to baseball when he discovered a special use for the clay from the Delaware River to take the shine off of baseballs before each game. At the time, the mid-1930s, baseball teams used a variety of substances to rub baseballs: tobacco juice, shoe polish, dirt from the baseball field or a combination, but nothing they tried gave the balls the right look or feel. Blackburne searched for the perfect rubbing compound until one day, according to legend, he found mud he liked in a secret tributary of the Delaware River, near Palmyra, New Jersey where he lived most of his life. He marketed his idea, and by 1938, he was supplying the mud to all American League teams; because Blackburne was a die-hard American League fan, he refused to sell the mud to National League teams until the mid-1950s. Since then, every major and minor league team has used only his product. One container, a little more than 16 ounces, will usually last a season. The process of creating the mud was featured in a pilot episode of the television show Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel.Blackburne's contribution to the game has earned him a mention in the Baseball Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.