Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Murphy

Inducted: 1994
Born: 04/13/1894
Died: 07/27/1964

Only one woman has ever played baseball with a team of major leaguers in a big-league ballpark. Her name was Mary Elizabeth Murphy, and she was born and raised in Warren, Rhode Island. On August 14, 1922, she played for a team of “all-stars” in an exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Her team beat the Red Sox 3-2. The game was a charity exhibition pitting New England and American Leagues all-star players against the Boston Red Sox. It was organized at Fenway Park to raise money for the family of Tommy McCarthy, who had recently died. McCarthy would later be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. She came into the game in the fourth inning and scored an out at first base from a throw by third baseman Harvey McClellan. In that same inning, there was a sharp grounder to third. Legend has it the third basemen held on to the ball and waited for the runner to get closer to first. He then zipped the throw hard and wide. Murphy, as she’d done throughout her life, handled what was thrown at her with ease. She caught the ball for the out. The third baseman turned to the shortstop and said, “She’ll do.” As Murphy said later to Sports Illustrated, “What he didn’t know was that I liked fast ones better than slow.”

Murphy, known as “The Queen of Baseball,” was the first woman to play professional baseball, competing with male athletes for 17 years. She played as a first baseman and pitcher, made several all-star teams, and was the first person of either sex to play on American and National League baseball teams. Murphy was born April 13, 1894, the daughter of Mary (Garan) and John Murphy. Her father was a millhand and a semi-professional baseball player. Lizzie was athletic and was a runner, skater, and swimmer, besides playing baseball. She participated in everything from ice hockey to soccer, swimming, and long-distance running in her hometown of Warren, Rhode Island, during the early 1900s. She told a reporter in 1941 that she “always loved boys’ sports. By age 15, she was playing on the local men’s business amateur league teams, such as the Warren Shoe Company. 

She was such a good ice skater that her brother Henry claimed that no boy or girl could even come close to keeping up with her on the ice. But baseball was what she wanted to play. Lizzie’s father was an avid amateur baseball player when he had time off from his job at the mill. He encouraged Lizzie, thinking her tomboy phase would eventually pass anyway. As for her mother, she did not love the idea of her daughter being so into sports. Despite this, everyone could see that Lizzie was destined for a baseball life. Henry would play catch with her, wincing as her fastballs smacked his glove.

As was customary back then for children of working-class families, when she turned twelve, Lizzie left school and took a job, in her case, working in the Parker Woolen Mill as a ring spinner. That did not stop her from playing baseball. She played after work and on weekends. In an interview with Sports Illustrated in the early 1960s, she said, “Even then, when I was too small to play, I used to beg the boys to let me carry the bats. Finally, I was allowed to join the team for only one reason: I used to ‘steal’ my father’s gloves and bats and bring them along, so I was an asset to them when I could furnish some of the equipment.”

She immediately left her mark with the boys and soon was the first player chosen in nearly every game. She was so good that by age 15, she played with men on local business teams. At 17, she became a professional and signed on to play for a Warren semi-pro club. Though her skills were immense, it was not lost upon the team’s owner that Lizzie was an attraction and could bring in a crowd. In those days, fans in these leagues didn’t typically pay admission to the games, but rather, a hat was passed around after the nine innings, and coins were thrown in. The owners would divvy up payment after the game concluded. After her first game on the semi-pro club, Lizzie received no payment. The following week, the team had a game scheduled in Newport, Rhode Island, a wealthy port town with several hundred sailors looking forward to seeing Lizzie’s strawberry hair under her cap; the owner thought he would make a healthy profit that day in Newport. 

As the story goes, Lizzie showed up all week to practice and workouts, never mentioning her “forgotten” payment. On Saturday morning, mere hours before the game, as everyone got ready, Lizzie approached the owner and told him, “No money, no play.” Without much choice or leverage at this stage, with so many coming to see Lizzie play, the owner agreed to pay her a five-dollar flat rate for every game from then on, plus a share of the collection. Because of this, Lizzie Murphy made history, becoming the first known female holdout in professional sports. 

A few years later, she was signed by the Providence Independents and then by Ed Carr’s All-Stars of Boston. Said Carr at the time of the signing to a group of reporters, “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.” The team traveled across southern New England and Canada, pulling in crowds wherever they went. It was estimated that they played over a hundred games during the season, lasting from April to August. Boasted Carr to reporters, “She swells attendance, and she’s worth every cent I pay her. But more importantly, she produces the goods. She’s a real player and a good fellow. 

Besides being a good baseball player, Lizzie had a good head for making money and marketing herself. To supplement income, she would go into the crowd after games, selling picture postcards of herself in uniform for a dime. She liked to say whatever town bought the most postcards was her favorite town. She also wore the same uniform as all the men – except for one notable exception. The front of her shirt didn’t have the team’s name, but rather “Lizzie Murphy” stitched across it, as evident in a picture of her at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. She wanted to ensure everyone knew that the woman the fans had paid to see was playing first base and what her name was. Despite Murphy getting most of the attention, she never had any issues getting along with her teammates. She once told a Providence Journal reporter that she “didn’t have any trouble with the boys. Of course, they cursed and swore, but I knew all the words.”

She also played in the women’s leagues, playing for the Bloomer Girls for 30 years. When she began her professional career, she was a pitcher but also known as a hitter. Her career average upon retirement was .300. Murphy was keen on self-promotion, selling photographs of herself between innings. She billed herself as the “Queen of Baseball” but was known as Spike Murphy. Newspapers recognized her skill, and rather than bill her as a woman player on the team, she was called by name as a publicity draw in headlines like “Lizzie Murphy in Game.” “Tyler Will Hurl Against Lizzie Murphy Tomorrow,” and “‘Spike’ Murphy, Woman Baseball Wizard, Learned Game Throwing Stones” “Ty’ and ‘Babe’ Better Beware if “Liz” Breaks Into Game.” Lizzie would go on to have two more firsts. In 1928, she played on a National League all-star team (in a game against the Boston Braves), becoming the first person of any gender to play for all-star teams in the American and National leagues. She also became the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues when she played first base for the Cleveland Colored Giants when they came through Rhode Island. According to the Exploratorium, a museum in San Francisco, Lizzy actually got a hit off of legendary Negro League pitcher (and Baseball Hall of Famer) Satchel Paige. Catcher Josh Gibson, one of the greatest power hitters of all time and also eventual Cooperstown inductee, was asked if Paige had really given Murphy all he had. Gibson responded angrily, “Of course, he did because Paige would have never wanted to have the embarrassment of giving up a hit to a woman.”

Lizzie played in an era when women were making great strides in a number of areas. Just two years before she began playing baseball, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote. Women were active in sports, and newspapers of the day featured sports page headlines regarding women’s tennis, swimming, and golf. Lizzie was the only woman playing professional baseball, however. She was a novelty and a gate attraction. But she was also an outstanding baseball player. 

In an interview with Dick Reynolds of The Providence Journal, Lizzie explained her interest in baseball: “My brother used to teach me to throw and catch, and it seemed to come naturally to me. When I got a little older, I would join the boys in games. I did well enough, so they began to choose me for their teams.” Lizzie Murphy hung up her spikes and jersey for good in 1935 at the age of forty. She went back home to Warren and then married Walter Larivee in 1937. When her husband died a few years later, Murphy went back to work in the woolen mills and worked on oyster boats. She died on July 27, 1964, at age 70. Murphy was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1994. 

On the 100th anniversary of her birth, Warren declared “Lizzie Murphy Day” with Red Sox VP Lou Gorman (inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1993) presented a proclamation honoring Lizzie Murphy for her outstanding contributions to baseball. 

For additional reading:

1. Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story by Emily McCully, Ferguson Books, 2015.

2. The first person to play for both baseball’s National League and American League All-Star teams was a woman: Lizzie “Queen of baseball” Murphy, Barbara Gregorich, Women At Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, Harcourt Brace, 1993.

3. “Murphy, Lizzie (1894–1964)”. Encyclopedia. Cengage Learning. 

4. Dreifort, John E. (January 2001). Baseball History from Outside the Lines: A Reader. Lincoln Nebraska: U of Nebraska Press. 

5. “Corn Cobs Play Fast Road Team”. North Adams, Massachusetts: North Adams Transcript. June 26, 1926.  

6. Mills, Dorthy Jane (2016). Encyclopedia of Women and Baseball, Jefferson, North Carolina.  

7. “Rhode Island’s Lizzie Murphy: First Woman to Play Major League Baseball”. Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historical Society. August 4, 2014. 

8. Ardell, Jean Hastings (2005). Breaking Into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime. Carbondale, Illinois: SIU Press. 

9 “Spike” Murphy, Woman Baseball Wizard, Learned Game Throwing Stones— “Ty” and “Babe” Better Beware if “Liz” Breaks Into Game”. Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Post. August 1, 1920.  

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