Known as the “Queen of Baseball,” Lizzie Murphy of Warren, Rhode Island was the first woman to play the game professionally. Murphy grew up as an athlete and was proficient in running, swimming, and skating, in addition to baseball. At age 12, she quit school and went to work in
Known as the “Queen of Baseball,” Lizzie Murphy of Warren, Rhode Island was the first woman to play the game professionally. Murphy grew up as an athlete and was proficient in running, swimming, and skating, in addition to baseball. At age 12, she quit school and went to work in the local mills. By age 15 Murphy was playing for mill teams such as Warren Shoe Company and Warren Silk Hats. At 17, she became a professional player, competing with a semi-pro team based in Rhode Island. In the 1913 Warren, Rhode Island directory, 19-year old Lizzie Murphy’s occupation was listed simply as “ball player.”
In 1918, her baseball career advanced when she signed with a semi-pro team out of Boston called the Traveling All-Stars. The All-Stars competed throughout the United States and Canada, averaging about 100 games a year.
During an early career appearance with a local semi-pro team in Warren, Murphy became the first female holdout in baseball history. The team collected $85 in gate receipts that day —
it was standard practice to split that total among the players. However, Lizzie received no payment after the game. She continued to attend practices that week as if nothing had happened, never mentioning the “forgotten” payments. The owner advertised Murphy’s next appearance at an upcoming contest in Newport, RI, knowing that his female star would draw a large crowd. Murphy had a plan though and refused to board the bus before the Saturday contest unless the owner paid her $5 per game (over $100 by today’s standards), in addition to her share of the gate receipts. “No money, no Newport,” she’s famously quoted as saying. The manager was forced to oblige and pay Murphy her fair share.
Local newspapers reported glowingly about Lizzie’s baseball talents. “[She] fielded her position in perfect fashion, whose pegging to the bases was quick and accurate, a batter with a sure eye and plenty of muscle, and a base runner without peer, an excellent player,” the Providence Evening Bulletin wrote of her talents. Ed Carr, the owner of the Boston All-Stars team, said of Lizzie’s baseball ability: “she swells attendance, and she’s worth every cent I pay her. But most important, she produces the goods.”
The entrepreneurial Murphy entered the stands between innings and after games to sign autographs and sell postcards of herself. She donned a jersey with her own name on the front and back so fans could easily spot the star player they came to see.
Murphy was also cunning on the field. She was fluent in French and used this knowledge to help her team. At a game played in Quebec, the first base coach was unaware of Murphy’s knowledge of the language. She listened as the coach discussed the steal sign with his player. Not letting on that she had understood the discussion, Murphy called time and set up a signal with her catcher. Her team caught five runners stealing that day.
In 1922, Murphy played for the American League All-Stars in a charity exhibition game held at Fenway Park. The August 14, 1922 contest made her the first woman to compete against a Major League team. Murphy played two innings at first base in the 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox.
In 1928, Murphy played for the National League All-Star team in a game against the Boston Braves, making her the first player, regardless of gender, to compete for All-Star teams from both the American and National leagues.
Murphy was also the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues. She played first base for the Cleveland Colored Giants during a game held at Rocky Point, Rhode Island. Murphy later told the secretary of the Rhode Island Amateur Baseball Association that she had singled off of the great Satchel Paige during a barnstorming game.
Lizzie Murphy retired from baseball when she was 41. She went back to work in the mills after her retirement from the game and also worked on oyster boats. Murphy was posthumously inducted to the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1994.
“To my way of thinking baseball is the cleanest sport that we have and for women to enter into it is eminently fitting,” she told the Boston Post in 1920. Her trailblazing efforts paved the way for so many women to enter the game she loved to play.e