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Posts Tagged ‘Life’

Magic Mud

In 1920, in a baseball game with the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians batter Ray Chapman was hit in the head by a pitched ball. Witnesses said Chapman apparently lost sight of the ball, because he made no attempt to move or duck.

Hours later, he died. Chapman is the only major league player ever killed in this manner.

The condition of the ball was considered a factor in Chapman’s death. In those days, pitchers were expected to “break in” new baseballs, which are glossy and slick and hard to grip. Pitchers rubbed the baseballs with anything handy — dirt, mud, spit, tobacco juice, shoe polish. They nicked the leather with blades and roughed it up with sandpaper.

As a result, game balls varied widely in condition. They could be damp. They could wobble in flight. Worse, they tended to be dark and mottled in color, making them harder to see.

After the Chapman incident, Major League Baseball was motivated anew to find a way to season new baseballs without the negative side effects. Nothing surfaced.

Finally, in the late 1930s, a third-base coach for the Philadelphia Athletics, Lena Blackburne, found a solution that wasn’t quite magic, but came close. His method is still used today by every MLB team and most minor league and college teams.

Blackburne grew up in Palmyra, New Jersey, a small town on the Delaware River just north of Philadelphia. He knew from his childhood that the river mud near Palmyra is unique. It has an unusually smooth, creamy, clay-like consistency and holds minimal moisture. He decided to try the mud on a baseball.

Blackburne found that a tiny amount of the river mud — one finger dipped in the stuff — was enough to spread over a baseball and work the magic. The mud seasoned the leather, eliminated the gloss, and slightly roughened the surface, all without discoloring the ball. Baseballs looked the same before and after treatment.

Blackburne’s rubbing mud was an instant hit with the Athletics. Word soon spread around the league, and other teams began asking Blackburne for a supply of the river mud.

At that point, Blackburne officially went into the business of selling Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud — Baseball’s Magic Mud.

Experts say the mud gets its characteristics from the type and amount of clay in the soil and the chemistry of the river. The Delaware is a “blackwater” river, rich in iron oxide, and it flows through highly acidic soil.

It’s also a fact that mud from anywhere along the river won’t do. Blackburne found that only along about a one-mile stretch of the river do ideal conditions for the rubbing mud exist.

Blackburne kept the location secret. He confided only in his friend John Haas, who became his partner in the business.

The process Blackburne and Haas developed was to collect the mud in buckets, run it through a strainer to remove leaves and other debris, add water, and let it sit in large cans.

Periodically over about six weeks, excess water was drained, and the mud was strained several more times. When no water remained and the mud was perfectly smooth — reduced to the consistency of cold cream or pudding — it was ready to be packaged.

Blackburne and Haas prepared the mud over the fall and winter and were ready to supply the teams the following spring. By the 1950s, every team in baseball was rubbing the magic mud on every baseball.

The mud was a big deal for baseball, but certainly not a money-maker for Blackburne. The market is limited, and a couple of containers will last a team all season. Blackburne’s enterprise was a service to the game and a labor of love.

(Each team needs about two one-pint containers of the mud per year. In 1981, a container sold for $20. The price today is $100. The mud business currently nets about $15,000 to $20,000 per year.)

Blackburne died in 1968 and left the company to Haas. Haas continued the business, still keeping the location secret. When he retired, his son-in-law, Burns Bintliff, took over.

Like Blackburne and Haas, Bintliff ran the mud business in his spare time, holding a job elsewhere to pay the bills. Eventually, he passed the business along to his son Jim, who runs the company today.

Jim Bintliff and his wife Joanne both worked for a small printing company and ran the mud business on the side. Joanne said they were married five years and had two children before Jim finally revealed to her the secret location where the mud is collected.

Eventually, their youngest daughter Rachel is expected to take over the business — if demand for the mud continues.

In 2016, MLB asked the equipment manufacturer Rawlings to develop a ball that didn’t need rubbing mud — a ball that is broken-in and ready to use upon delivery. The rubbing mud, they said, is a hassle for equipment managers, and Mother Nature could decide to stop making it available.

Rawlings continues trying to create a pre-seasoned baseball, but so far has struck out. Pitchers are accustomed to the feel of Lena Blackburne‘s Magic Mud, and the chemists and engineers at Rawlings haven’t been able to replicate that feel to the players’ satisfaction.

Mud is mud,” said Mike Thompson, Chief Marketing Officer at Rawlings. “But, obviously, mud isn’t mud.”

Meanwhile, Jim Bintliff has been working on another angle for the business. The mud, it seems, works just as well on a football. Many NFL teams now place regular orders.

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Jim Bintliff at work.

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Audacity

Home entertainment-wise, I am seriously behind the times. In this age of streaming via the internet, I still have DirecTV.

I signed up with DirecTV when I moved to Jefferson in 2006. The cost was always too high, but I get the programming I want, and I’m used to it. However, I’m thinking it’s time for a change.

Things started going south a few years ago, when DirecTV was acquired by AT&T.

At the time, I had no opinion about AT&T one way or the other. I can’t recall ever doing business with them.

And, for a year or so after the takeover, nothing changed. My DirecTV service was the same, as was the website, as was the billing system.

Then the tentacles of AT&T began reaching out. My opinion of AT&T quickly formed, and it wasn’t positive.

First, the DirecTV billing system was scrapped, and AT&T took over.

I realize there were business reasons for doing it. The trouble is, the DirecTV billing process was simple and easy, and the AT&T system is complicated and crappy.

To access my monthly statement, I now go to the clunky AT&T website and drill down to DirecTV. My statement is six steps away instead of two. Annoying.

Further, AT&T now has my records, so they pester me constantly with letters and emails, trying to lure me away from Verizon. Annoying.

Last month, however, AT&T crossed the line in a frankly shocking way. I’m still amazed at the audacity.

It started with a phone call that I answered reluctantly. (I was expecting a call from a prospective new lawn guy, and I didn’t know his number, so I picked up.)

The call was from a fellow with an Indian accent who identified himself as from AT&T. He wanted me to add HBO and Showtime to my DirecTV service. He was pushing a special deal where you get $13 off the $30 monthly cost for the first three months.

If I wanted HBO or Showtime, I would have ordered it years ago. I told him no thanks, and I hung up.

The next day, I got an email from AT&T that read, “Thanks for choosing AT&T. Please scroll down to review your DirecTV order details.”

Order details?

What followed was a breakdown of my new DirecTV monthly charges, which included $30 for HBO and Showtime, minus $13 off for three months.

What the — ??

The email also included this friendly paragraph:

You have accepted a 24 MONTH PROGRAMMING AGREEMENT. If you decide to cancel your service early or do not maintain 24 consecutive months of base level programming (priced at $29.99/mo. or above) or qualifying international services bundle, you will be charged an Early Termination Fee (ETF) of $10.00 per month for each month remaining on your 24-month contract (up to $240.00).

It closed with the usual 20 paragraphs of policy and legal stuff.

Boy, was I steamed. AT&T signed me up for service I specifically declined. Did that bonehead on the phone think I wouldn’t notice I was receiving new services? And being charged for it?

Brimming with righteous indignation, I called AT&T Customer Service. After a wait that wasn’t too bad, another guy with an Indian accent came on the line. He was relatively friendly and pleasant, which helped.

I read him parts of the email about the added service. I complained that I had declined the additions, not accepted them. I said I resented the brazenness and chicanery, and I wanted my previous service package restored.

The guy said the phone call indeed is shown in my files, and it indicates that I accepted the new service. BUT, he added quickly when he could tell I was about to explode, it was an easy matter to reverse it and make things right.

He also said someone would look into the “mix-up” because, you know, AT&T is committed to the finest in customer service and all that.

Later that day, I got a follow-up email from AT&T. It was identical to the first, except the HBO and Showtime service had been removed, the new charges were deleted, and the friendly paragraph cited above was gone.

I was, of course, still miffed about being played. Maybe not by AT&T itself, but certainly by that villain who called me.

Then a third email arrived from AT&T, and I was steamed anew. It asked me to rate my recent experience with AT&T Customer Service.

Because the second guy had been a decent sort, I deleted the email instead of unloading on them. But, oh, the audacity.

Word is, AT&T now wants to sell DirecTV because the satellite business has become a dinosaur, and DirecTV is hemorrhaging customers. AT&T has tried to get into streaming with “AT&T TV Now, but without much success.

One possible buyer of DirecTV: Dish Network.

I guess nobody else these days would want to invest in a satellite company.

Cord-cutting

 

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Holding Up

Friends, I have made peace with the fact that I am now an old dude. The evidence is clear, even though it’s weird to think of myself as being, like, an old geezer.

In many respects, I don’t feel that old. In my head, I’m the same Rocky Smith I’ve been since about age 10. The inner me has changed very little.

On the other hand, I’m not as mentally sharp as when I was younger. Sometimes, my brain plays tricks on me, like instructing me to go to the kitchen, then making me forget why I went there. Fortunately, I’m retired and pose no real danger to anyone.

I also show plenty of signs of physical wear. Creeping arthritis, a touch of glaucoma, a balding pate. I’ve clearly lost a step, even though I’m — knock on wood — still active and in relatively good health.

But I digress. The fact is, I’m about to turn 77, and that’s old.

Which is why, when an attendant at Kroger paid me a compliment regarding my age recently, it was quite satisfying.

When I make a run to Kroger, I always use the self-checkout because it’s faster. Last week, my shopping included a bottle of Pinot Noir, which requires an ID check.

Checking my ID is ludicrous, of course. For the last half-century, my appearance has confirmed that I am over 18, but Kroger has its stupid rules.

I scanned the bottle, and the machine beeped and announced that help was on the way. I took out my wallet and waited.

A 40-ish female employee appeared. “Can I see your ID, sir?” she asked cheerily.

I held up the wallet so she could see my license.

“January 26th, 1943,” she intoned and turned to enter the date on the screen of the scanner.

“I’d rather you didn’t say that out loud,” I told her. “I’m sensitive about my age.”

She turned and looked at me, pursed her lips, and tapped her chin in thought.

“Let me tell you something,” she said with great seriousness. “I check IDs for a living. I’ve seen the IDs of half the adults in Jefferson. I know when they were born.

“I see people every day who look older than you, and act older than you, and they’re a decade younger than you. Sometimes two.”

I was appropriately speechless.

“Take it from an expert, sir,” she said, “you’re holding up nicely. Count your blessings.”

I managed to thank her in a bumbling, awkward fashion and went on my way.

I’m still aglow.

Pinot Noir

… From the compliment, not the Pinot Noir.

 

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Seven Rules

Well, a new year has come charging in, like it or not, ready for it or not. I say it’s a good time to take a deep breath, get a grip, and reassess — to make sure your mental health and coping skills are in proper working order.

I have a great place to start. It’s the “7 Rules of Life,written bynobody seems to know.

The Seven Rules thing has become a meme that is ubiquitous online. Some versions are called “7 Cardinal Rules for Life.

The wording of the rules varies quite a bit, but all the versions reflect the same basic sentiments: relax, don’t worry so much, be yourself, and remember that time heals.

Ordinarily, I react to stuff like this with an eyeroll, but in this case, the advice is genuinely positive and helpful.

Here’s one version out of the many.

Seven Rules

Relax, don’t worry so much, be yourself, and remember that time heals.

Wisdom you can take to the bank.

 

 

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This Just In

MENOMONIE, WISCONSIN — A BASE jumper who parachuted illegally from the top of a cellphone tower ended up calling the police for help after his parachute got caught on a guy wire, leaving him dangling 50 feet in the air.

Police said the 20-year-old man jumped from a 300-foot Charter Communications tower. After his rescue and treatment at a local clinic, he was arrested for criminal trespass.

Note: BASE is an acronym for the most common fixed objects from which the jumpers launch themselves: buildings, antennas, spans, and earth (mountains, cliffs). BASE jumping occasionally is permitted, but most jumps are done illegally by grandstanding knuckleheads.

BASE

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA A 19-year-old female set her apartment on fire while burning love letters from a former boyfriend.

Police said the woman sat on the floor of her bedroom and used a butane torch to burn the stash of letters, then went into another room to take a nap. She woke up later to find the carpet burning.

Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, which caused an estimated $4,000 in damage to the building. No injuries were reported.

The woman was cited for negligent burning.

Burn

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA — A woman who dreamed she swallowed her engagement ring woke up to discover it actually happened.

The newly-engaged San Diego woman said she dreamed she was aboard a train and was approached by “bad guys” attempting to steal the ring. To thwart them, she swallowed the ring with the help of a glass of water.

When she awoke the next morning and discovered that the ring was missing, she called her fiance. They went to an urgent care clinic, where an X-ray confirmed the location of the ring. An emergency endoscopy retrieved it.

Ring

 

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C. Hart Merriam

I’m always impressed by, and more than a little envious of, people who make genuine contributions to society. Most people, including me, and maybe you, are just taking up space. No offense intended; that’s just the way it is.

One such person who left his mark is the naturalist and zoologist C. Hart Merriam (1855-1942). Merriam was born wealthy and well-connected, and he could have settled back and lived a life of indolence and privilege. Instead, he built upon his status, applied himself, and made a difference.

Clinton Hart Merriam was born in New York City, the son of Clinton Levi Merriam, a member of Congress, and Carolyn Hart Merriam, the daughter of a judge. The younger Merriam chose to go by “C. Hart” because his father already had a claim on the name Clinton.

The Merriam family wintered in New York City, but otherwise lived at Locust Grove, an estate in rural Lewis County in upstate New York. Growing up there, young Merriam developed an interest in the natural world.

By the time he was 15, he had learned the basics of taxidermy and amassed a sizable collection of animal specimens. To encourage the boy, his father introduced him to Spencer Baird, a naturalist at the Smithsonian Institution. Impressed by young Merriam’s collection, Baird arranged for him to take professional lessons in taxidermy.

In 1871, when Merriam was 16, Baird appointed him to accompany the Hayden Geological Survey to Wyoming as a naturalist. The Hayden expedition explored the territory that later became Yellowstone National Park.

Merriam returned with hundreds of bird and nest specimens. His report on the trip was his first contribution to scientific literature.

In 1874, at Baird’s urging, Merriam enrolled at Yale University, where he studied anatomy and natural history. While at Yale, he published several scientific papers, including “A Review of the Birds of Connecticut” and, following a trip to Florida with his father, “Ornithological Notes From the South.”

Merriam’s interest in anatomy soon led him to leave Yale and enter medical school at Columbia University. He earned his M.D. degree in 1879 and returned to Locust Grove and Lewis County, where he established a successful medical practice.

Merriam stayed in touch with his naturalist friends and continued to add specimens to his collection. He also began studying mammals as well as birds.

Another interest that surfaced was the question of species distribution — understanding the factors that determine where living things make their homes. Preparing for future study, Merriam hired a clerk to research weather statistics and to document monthly temperatures at different locations and altitudes.

In 1883, a group of scientists created the American Ornithologists’ Union, patterned after a similar British organization. Merriam was elected secretary and treasurer as well as chairman of the committees on Bird Migration and Geographic Distribution.

Merriam’s grand plans for his committees far exceeded the organization’s resources. But Merriam had resources of his own: a father serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and friendships with John Muir, John Wesley Powell, and Theodore Roosevelt.

The elder Merriam arranged the creation of an ornithology section within the Department of Agriculture, plus $10,000 annually for a chief ornithologist. In 1886, the younger Merriam was chosen for the job. Through the magic of political connections, he thus transitioned from medical doctor to scientist.

In time, the ornithology section became the Bureau of Biological Survey, which Merriam headed for 25 years. In 1940, it evolved into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 1886, Merriam married his secretary, Virginia Gosnell. In 1888, he was among the 33 notable Americans who founded the National Geographic Society.

Then, in July 1889, he set forth on a scientific expedition in Northern Arizona that led to the insight for which he is best remembered.

Bankrolled by a $600 grant from his department, Merriam and a small team conducted a survey of plants and animals in the Flagstaff area. The survey extended from the San Francisco Peaks to the Painted Desert to the floor of Grand Canyon.

For several months, they worked from a series of remote base camps in the region. One, located about 20 miles north of Flagstaff, is today a National Historic Landmark.

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Merriam (center), his wife Virginia, and staff members at the base camp near Flagstaff.

The team’s findings led Merriam to conclude that the changes occurring in flora and fauna as you gain altitude are the same as changes occurring as you travel north. Most naturalists at the time thought of “zones” in terms of eastern, central, and western.

Going further, Merriam identified seven “life zones” that support specific types of plant and animal life.

The zones, from highest to lowest in altitude:

1 – Alpine (arctic)
2 – Sub-Alpine (tundra)
3 – Hudsonian (spruce, fir)
4 – Canadian (mixed conifer)
5 – Transition (ponderosa pine)
6 – Upper Sonoran (grasslands)
7 – Lower Sonoran (desert)

Merriam said the zones are based on differences in temperature and humidity and are applicable everywhere.

In truth, it isn’t that simple. Other factors besides temperature and humidity affect the distribution of plants and animals. The direction in which a slope faces, for example, and the type of soil.

But Merriam’s general concept was quickly recognized as significant. Over time, a few tweaks were necessary, but his zone system remains in use today.

His work also tied in nicely with other thinking about species distribution that led to the new science of ecology.

During his research trips over the years, Merriam found that “the locals,” aka Native Americans, were valuable sources of information about the plants and animals he was studying. Eventually, he became interested in the tribes themselves, particularly those in California. He even picked up enough of several native languages to communicate with his contacts.

As the 20th Century arrived, the native populations were decreasing rapidly. Concerned that their knowledge, languages, and traditions were being lost, Merriam resolved to collect as much information as possible about the tribes before it was too late.

From about 1910 to 1939, leaving his previous scientific life behind, Merriam began collecting information about the tribes. Taking advantage of his notoriety, he also advocated for and assisted them.

Merriam collected vast amounts of data on 157 tribes and published much of it. Today, his field notes are housed in the Anthropology Museum at the University of California Berkeley.

He died in Berkeley in 1942, age 86.

Merriam was a dynamic, driven guy. He was, it seems, a bit flighty and erratic, but his curiosity always seemed to lead him down worthwhile paths.

He was a medical doctor, naturalist, zoologist, ornithologist, mammalogist, ethnographer, anthropologist, and more, always fully committed to the project of the moment.

A full and eclectic life that made a difference.

Impressive, indeed.

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The Questions…

1. In 2002, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Why?

2. When pop star Katy Perry began her career as a teenager, what kind of music did she sing?

3. Two American Presidents had the first name of Thomas. Name the one that isn’t Thomas Jefferson.

4. What do the Ms in M&M’s stand for?

5. Which came first, the color orange or the fruit orange?

The Answers…

1. Because it lost a court battle with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which trademarked the initials WWF in 1961.

2. Christian music. Both of her parents were Pentecostal ministers, and she started singing in church at age nine. Her first gospel album in 2001 flopped, so she made adjustments.

3. Thomas Woodrow Wilson. As a kid, he was called Tommy.

4. The Ms represent company founders Forrest Mars and Bruce Murrie. Forrest Mars was the son of the founder of Mars, Inc., and Bruce Murrie was the son of the president of Hershey’s. In 1941, Forrest held the patent for making the colored candy-coated chocolates, and Bruce had access to the chocolate. Their company now manufactures 400 million M&M’s per day.

5. The fruit came first. The word entered the English language in the 1300s, evolving from the French term pomme d’orenge. The first known use in English of orange to describe the color was in 1512. Before that, people called it yellow-red.

WWE

Orange

 

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