Current Weather
The Spy FM

Pro Pitchers’ Dirty Secret Rubbed On Every Ball

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
October 23, 2011

Behind every pitch in professional ball is a guy like Dan O’Rourke, rubbing up baseballs in the Philadelphia Phillies clubhouse. He plucks a ball from a stack of boxes between his knees and prepares his hands with mud.

“I’m applying mud to the baseball to take the sheen, the shininess off the ball, so the pitchers have something to hold onto,” he says. He gives the ball a few quick turns against his palm.

“I do roughly three to four balls at a time,” he says.

Rubbing new balls with mud is standard practice for every clubhouse in Major League Baseball, and since the 1950s, all that mud has come from the same secret spot in southern New Jersey.

“I guess you’d call me a mud farmer,” says Jim Bintliff, president of Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud. That’s right, baseball rubbing mud. Bintliff’s is the only baseball rubbing mud company that serves professional baseball.

Bintliff does his harvesting in shallow water on a muddy bank of a Delaware River tributary. He shovels the top inch or so of mud off the surface, where it’s the smoothest.

“It’s the texture; it’s like a cold cream,” he says. “If it’s too gritty, it can damage the leather on the ball.”

Legend has it players started rubbing up baseballs after an errant pitch killed a batter back in the ’20s. Umpires tried tobacco juice and infield dirt to rough up the new leather. Turned out what worked best was mud drawn from the favorite fishing spot of a friend of Bintliff’s grandfather.

That mud is now the standard in professional leagues.

“There are times that an umpire will throw me a ball, and I’ll just throw it right back to him … because it’s either not rubbed up enough or too much,” says Mike Koplove, who pitched for the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Cleveland Indians and other teams.

Koplove says a brand-new ball feels almost like a cue ball. One that’s rubbed up has a bit of texture, which is especially important for curveballs and sliders.

“You have to use your fingers to impart a really tight topspin or a side spin on the ball, and if your fingers just kind of slide right off, the ball’s not going to curve as sharp or as hard,” he says.

Bintliff says harvesting, filtering and packaging the famous mud is hard work, but it’s worth it.

“It doesn’t take long to think, ‘This mud was on baseballs that are in the Hall of Fame,’ ” he says. “It’s kind of a neat connection.”

It’s a connection most fans won’t even notice as slightly dirty baseballs fly off the pitcher’s mound. But Bintliff, he’ll know his mud was there. [Copyright 2011 WHYY, Inc.]

Leave a Reply

11PM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 6AM The Splendid Table

The Splendid Table

Hosted by award-winning Lynne Rossetto Kasper, The Splendid Table is a culinary, culture and lifestyle program that celebrates food and its ability to touch the lives and feed the souls of everyone.

View the program guide!

6AM to 7AM Travel with Rick Steves

Travel with Rick Steves

"Travel with Rick Steves" is a fun, hour-long, and practical talk show with guest experts and calls and questions from travelers. This weekly program is a lively conversation between travelers and the experts as we learn to explore our world smartly, smoothly, and thoughtfully.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center