Lizzie Murphy didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Even as a little kid, when the boys told her she was too small to play with their team in baseball, she persuaded them to let her carry the bats. So began the career of the first woman to play major league baseball.
Largely because she could borrow her father’s equipment – he was a semi-pro ball player – Lizzie soon got herself a spot playing first base with the local boys, and there was no stopping her after that.
Murphy, born in 1894 in Warren, R.I., was a pure athlete – skater, runner, and swimmer. She had athletic ability to burn. But it was baseball where she would make her mark.
Like many girls of her era, Murphy left school at age 12 to work in a woolen mill. But her talent wouldn’t stay buried. She caught on with local teams, the Warren Silk Hats and the Warren Baseball Club, and she was a big draw.
In those days, the teams would pass a hat through the crowd and collect up donations that the team would divide up among the players. After her first game, the story goes, the manager didn’t pay Lizzie a share.
For the next weekend, he spread the word far and wide that he was bringing his girl ballplayer to Newport. The unusual presence of a girl playing with the boys would be quite a draw.
Just before the game, though, Lizzie told him what professional athletes have always said: No pay, no play. Lizzie got her share, and a bonus for every game she appeared in.
By the 1920s, Lizzie had moved on to bigger events. She was a regular with Ed Carr’s All Stars of Boston, a barnstorming team that played as many as 100 games a year throughout New England and Canada. In between innings she would enter the stands to sell photographs of herself.
Lizzie, who wore her red hair wound up under her cap, had her name written large across front and back of her jersey so the fans could spot her. She went by the name 'Spike Murphy' and billed herself as the 'Queen of Baseball.'
The high point of her career came in 1922, on August 14, when Lizzie’s team played an exhibition against the Boston Red Sox of the Major Leagues. The team put together the event at Fenway Park to raise money for the family of Tommy “Little Mac” McCarthy, a Hall-of-Famer who played in Boston in the 1880s and 1890s who had recently died.
Lizzie entered the game to cheers and boos, and performed well at first base – the first time a woman would play against a major league team. Ed Carr would say of her: “No ball is too hard for her to scoop out of the dirt, and when it comes to batting, she packs a mean wagon tongue.”
She never got to bat in that game. She wasn’t a bad hitter, though, averaging .300 throughout her career and once collecting a hit off Satchel Paige while playing in an exhibition with the Negro Leagues.
In 1935, Lizzie hung up her glove and settled back in Warren. In her later years, she was somewhat bitter about the game she once loved, saying she didn’t really know why she had ever done it.