The Boston Red Sox in 1922 played against Lizzie “Queen of the Diamond” Murphy in an exhibition game. Someday a woman will play MLB and not as a novelty.
Massachusetts has two famous women named Lizzie and one everyone can recognize since a little ditty is attached to Lizzie Borden’s name and heinous act via the ability to handle an ax.
A second Lizzie also is famous, but history has not been diligent about providing the respect certainly due – that is Lizzie Murphy “The Queen of the Diamond.”
Lizzie played first base against the Red Sox in 1922, but you will not find her listed in the servers at Baseball Reference since it was not a real game, but an exhibition game on August 14th to raise funds for the family of Tommy McCarthy, who had recently died. McCarthy – a member of the Hall of Fame – was born in Boston and played a significant part of his career for the Braves or Beaneaters. This was the first appearance by a woman to play against professionals at the major league level.
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The contest was an exhibition that the Red Sox participated in against a group of New England All-Stars that included professional players and barnstormers. In the fourth inning, Murphy entered the game and took her position at first base. Lizzie soon recorded an out on an infield grounder that went short (some accounts have third) to first. Lizzie did not hit and played only two innings.
Just who was Elizabeth Murphy?
A quick synopsis of Murphy’s career follows and further resources are available to the reader in sources at the end of the article or via notations within the article for this talented player.
Murphy was one of those rare athletes that was excellent at just about any sport she chose to try. Growing up in Warren, Rhode Island, it was everything – hockey, swimming, soccer and especially baseball, which is where her career sports path took her.
Lizzie – also known as Spike – joined the professional ranks at age 17 and her skill level and popularity as a drawing card did not go unnoticed. Murphy travelled through New England and Canada drawing crowds and establishing herself as a legitimate player and not a novelty act. Her career started by signing with a Providence, Rhode Island team and In 1918 Lizzie joined with Ed Carr’s Travelling All-Stars and that is where her real notoriety and fame began.
"“She swells attendance and she’s worth every cent I pay her. But more important, she produces the goods. She’s a real player and a good fellow.” – Ed Carr"
A first for Murphy also included being the first woman playing for a National League All-Star team in 1928 against the Boston Braves and thus becoming the first woman to play on National and American League All-Star teams. She was also the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues, where Murphy reportedly also got a hit off Satchel Paige. Murphy also played extensively for the Bloomer Girls travelling team and would either pitch or play first base or both before eventually retiring to her hometown at age 40.
When will a woman play in the majors?
Forget all the novelty acts as I am convinced baseball is the only major sport that will have a woman make a contribution based on merit and nothing to do with papering the house for a few bucks. It will happen and the route to it is established by Steven Wright and many others who use the very pitch that can do it – the knuckleball. That could be the pathway.
A Hardball Times article recently commented on the obstacles that women face regarding sports and especially baseball in relationship to males. Mentioned is the knuckleball and that is to me the very key. The one trick pitch that displays a degree of difficulty and does not rely on a power arm. The difficulty is obvious and that is mastery of the elusive pitch.
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If any pitcher could toss it, they would and the fact is they can’t. Some like Tim Wakefield messed around with it as a position player and discovered a knack for it. When Wakefield realized his potential career as a position player was a doomed fantasy he took advantage of his hidden talent and won 200 games.
Wade Boggs was supposed to have a nice knuckleball that he would occasionally use in batting practice or spring training. Knuckleball pitchers were not baseball born but created – usually from pitching failure or just messing around. The general pathway was a failure as a traditional pitcher and a resurgence as a knuckleballer with Wright and R.A. Dickey being the latest.
A woman pitcher is certainly capable of leveling the playing field (pun intended) with her male counterparts by developing the dancing pitch, as old-timers called it. Couple that with the occasional off-speed pitch and you have a finished product. But will it ever happen?
Baseball is a very democratic sport in that all physical types have an opportunity to succeed – a sport where even a rotund Pablo Sandoval can net a $95 Million contract. Where a 5’6” Jose Altuve is on the verge of another batting title – so why not a woman? Just think that a League of Their Own could be the American or National League.
Sources: Hibernian Chronicle
Exploratorium of San Francisco
Women in Baseball
Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame
National Pastime Museum