Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 29

1911 T205 - Lena Blackburne

On this day in 1968, Lena Blackburne died.

Lena played with the Chicago White Sox in 1910, 1912, 1914, 1915, 1927 and 1929. What's so important about a die hard American League fan, whose batting average with the Sox (.209), is just five points shy of his career average of .214?

Well, he did coach the White Sox in 1927 and 1928. Blackburne also managed the Pale Hose from 1928 until 1929. Many players have come back to coach and manage. It's not that uncommon. In fact, the Sox just parted ways with a long time manager who was a long time player for the Sox and a new manager was just hired who also played for a long time on the South Side. Lena's contribution is just plain dirty, but not like Hal Chase or Chick Gandil were dirty. Blackburne's claim to fame was mud.

In fact, the secret reservoir of mud that he found is used on all official MLB balls to take the sheen off and to make the balls rougher, so pitchers can get a better grip on the ball, without scratching the leather. By 1938, all American League teams were using the compound and by the mid-fifties, Lena finally sold his compound to the National League, so that all MLB teams were using his discovery. An American League die hard fan, Blackburne refused to sell his compound to the NL. Each year, a thousand pounds of the mud is taken from the secret location and sold to MLB the following season.
Even the most marginal players can make a huge difference in the game. One play, one catch, one hit, one strike or one discovery can make all the difference.

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