In February I started a project on this blog of asking people to name their favorite obscure baseball figure: it can be a player, manager, umpire, or anyone else employed by pro baseball. My choice is Lena Blackburne, for several reasons. His rubbing mud is the industry standard; his endearing nickname (his real name was Russell Aubrey Blackburne); him getting the White Sox’s first two hits at the real, original Comiskey Park, him pitching for the first and only time in the majors at age 42: that was his last game, in 1929. He hit a single to win a 1927 game when he was 40 and the temporary White Sox manager in place of an ejected Ray Schalk; he died on Leap Day 1968 at 81; he was a baseball lifer, who worked for the Philadelphia and Kansas City A’s, into his 70s, as a scout for the A’s. Lena covered practically the full spectrum of baseball jobs: infielder, pitcher, coach, manager, scout, entrepreneur. He was a baseball man, one of the old-timers who help keep MLB together, and he was also apparently a strong-minded, proud, tough man, which is a nice contradiction of his feminine nickname.
Here’s what Jim Bintliff, who now runs the Baseball Rubbing Mud enterprise Lena started in about 1939, had to say about his character:
“Having only met Lena as a young boy I don’t know a lot of his history. I do know he was a hard nosed German man. Proud and fair, and could be as gentle as he could be tough.
“I was told a story about him walking in a snowstorm one night to get medicine for a sick player on his minor league roster while he was a manager. But I also heard that he sent one player packing for not reacting to every pitch while playing left field. He was a die hard American Leaguer, not even offering to let the National League have his mud until the late 40’s early 50’s. I know he had the first official hit in Cominsky Park.”