If you’ve ever played baseball, you know how using a brand new, slick baseball can be an adventure unless you “rub it down” and take the shine off. A time honored pre-game ritual in the majors is to rub new baseballs down with mud. Here’s a great article from CNN about where baseball’s ‘magic mud’ comes from and the story behind the tradition:
On August 16, 1920, Ray Chapman, a shortstop for the Cleveland Indians, was crowding the plate in the top of the fifth inning when he was struck in the head by an underhand curveball from New York Yankees pitcher Carl Mays. Days later, Chapman became the first and only player killed by a pitch in Major League history.
From that point forward the umpires were looking for a way to get a better grip for the pitcher on a new baseball,” Bintliff says. “They tried tobacco juice, shoe polish, dirt from the infield and all of those things scarred or damaged the leather.”
Lena Blackburne, a manager for the Philadelphia Athletics, had an idea. He cured and aged mud from a fishing hole near his home and took it back to the Athletics clubhouse.