Baseball Oddities S01E08: Lizzy Murphy

Hey what’s going on everybody! Modern
Vintage Collector here back with another episode of Oddities. Now, if you’re like
me you probably never really think of women playing in much of any capacity in
baseball up until the all-american girls professional baseball league in the
1940s, and then even then I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of our
knowledge base doesn’t extend much beyond that of what we learned in A
League of Their Own. I mean unless you study this specifically; however. what if
I told you that in the 1920s there was one woman who went toe-to-toe with the
likes of Rogers Hornsby and Satchel Paige? Well there was one such person and
I found it by chance while researching Josh Gibson no less. So stay tuned as we
look at a woman who defied the odds in early twentieth-century baseball Mary
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Murphy. Though they don’t get much notoriety
there is more of a female presence in early baseball than many of us probably
knew. As early as 1867, when the African-American Dolly Vardens
of Philadelphia became the first paid baseball team. This was two years before
the Cincinnati Red Stockings became a club! Women have been peppered throughout
the historical record of baseball. There were the Blondes and Brunettes who
played their first game for which fans were charged an entrance fee in 1875.
Then you had the the Vassar College Resolute’s in 1876. There was a female
team from Smith College in 1880s even though they were disbanded as a result
of societal pressures, and then there was arguably the most important team the
Bloomer Girls who not only introduced night games, but also had an average of
three males on their team. And I know what you’re thinking, were they dressed
like women? Yes! they were, they were dressed like women! Believe it or not
Rogers Hornsby and Smokey Joe Wood got their starts in baseball playing as
women with the Bloomer Girls! I know I couldn’t believe it either, but you know
I mean there’s many more women that made appearances and organized baseball at
the end of the 19th century and going into the 20th century, and if you want a
neat timeline USA baseball’s website has a great one for your review. As I used
this site specifically as a reference, the link will be in the description
below as I try to do that for all my videos. And I will tell you I didn’t
believe the Hornsby and Wood stories, but source after source after source after
source verified this. So take it for what it’s worth. In any case there was one
woman who seems to stand out above the others: Lizzie Murphy. Born in 1894 in Warren, Rhode Island, Lizzie had no shortage of talents. She
was one of six children to her father John Murphy who was an Irish mill worker
and semi-pro ballplayer, and her mother Mary Murphy. And while she will be
remembered for her time in baseball, she was really an all-around athlete she
excelled in many sports like ice hockey, soccer, swimming, long-distance running, I
mean the list goes on and on, and like most children
she was relegated to dropping out of school to help her family earn money. So,
what did she have to do? She had to go find a job at the age
of 12. You know, kids have those nimble little fingers, so you know rather than
spending her time going to school and being a kid, she got a job at a wool mill
as a ring spinner, but what free time she did have, she would go out there on the
diamond and hone her skills. In an interview with Sports Illustrated in the
early 1960s she said “even 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 for one reason, I would
steal my father’s equipment. So, she’d bring bats and gloves along and then she
became a valuable asset as she had equipment that they needed. Naturally,
as probably any kid in her situation would probably believe, she often doubted
the likelihood of ever achieving any semblance of success in baseball and she
came close to hanging up her cleats many, many times. Fortunately for her, her father’s encouragement, and it was probably more of a means of getting her out of
the tomboy phase, he encouraged her love of sports, and by the age of 15 she found
herself playing with the adults and multiple amateur teams as a
first baseman. At the age of 17, she was signed on to play for the Warren
semi-pro Club, but the owner thought he could get over on her. Following the
first game she played, she didn’t receive pay. So following the week of non-payment
Warren was scheduled to play Newport. And what does Newport have? Sailors. So you
know the owner knew that there was about to be a whole bunch of money to be made,
and so they’d be looking to see Lizzie play. And she practiced all week,
she didn’t make any mention of the non-payment, but a few hours before the
game she gave the owner an ultimatum: no money no play, and the owner
understood the implications of this, and he agreed to pay her five dollars a game
and to share the collection. And while this doesn’t seem like a whole lot of
money today, this would be the equivalent of about $121
dollars today, and this would effectively make Lizzie the first female athlete to
hold out on professional sports. She signed her first big contract at the age
of 24 with Ed Carr’s All-Stars of Boston in 1918, and traded in her bloomers for a
baseball uniform. However, rather than her team’s uniform
she had a custom one made emblazoned with her name across the front so that
she could stand out from the rest of the team. And while this may seem kind of
like a show of arrogance, and she did get the lion share of attention believe you me,
you know she never had any issues with her teammates. But to give you an idea,
the All-Stars were a barnstorming team and they played an estimated 100 games a
season across New England and up into Canada. And while Carr would receive no
shortage of criticism for what people perceived as him exploiting a woman
he couldn’t balk at the crowds that Lizzie drew. Not only was she a big a big
attraction in the form of a curio, you know she could actually play. And Carr is
quoted as saying that, “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. Now essentially what I believe he was saying is that she couldn’t really hit well, but she could
rattle the pitchers with her mouth. So, I had to look up what a wagging tongue was
and the urban dictionary says that a wagon tongue is “a woman that can’t shut up.” So I
think the best way to describe Lizzie’s play is a lot like Ray Oyler, strong
glove weak bat, but however you know he also said that she produces the goods
and that she’s a real player and a good fellow. Additionally, she is understood as
having a .300 career batting average though semi-pro teams didn’t keep
records so this number must remain speculative. On August 14th 1922
Lizzie was invited to play in an exhibition all-star game at Fenway Park.
The event was coordinated in order to raise money for the family of Tommy
“Little Mac” McCarthy who had passed, as he was a former Red Sox player. The game
featured the Red Sox and various professional players who either played
in the majors or made a living Barn Storming. Lizzie was called in to sub for
the first baseman and was met with cheers and cheers though the cheers from
the crowd outweighed the former. This would essentially solidify her mark in
history as she became the first female to play in a game against major leaguers. However, for reasons unbeknownst to me she only played two innings, recording
one put out and did not hit at all though her one put out was anything but
average as the third baseman Harvey McClellan, and this is
according to her, purposely threw the ball late and wide; however, she fielded
it cleanly and recorded the out. The Providence Journal captures the
story like this: “On August 14th 1922 history was made at Boston’s Fenway Park
and Harvey McClellan was determined to stop it. McClellan was playing third base
for the American League all-stars who had come to Fenway to face the Red Sox
in an exhibition game. What made this outing historic was
McClellan’s teammate playing first base Rhode Islander Lizzie Murphy the first
woman ever to play in a major league exhibition game.
McClellan’s goal was to embarrass Murphy in the fourth inning he
had his chance a ground ball was hit to McClellan and he easily fielded it then
steadying himself he fired the ball as hard as he could towards for his base
taking care it aimed wide of the bag McClellan knew the ball would get by
Murphy, and the runner would advance. The error and the jeers would all be on her.
But Lizzie Murphy had other plans, planting one foot firmly on the bag she
lunged for the ball to make the catch the unmistakable pop of a baseball
slamming into a glove filled the stadium. The umpire barked “OUT!” and the crowd went
wild Shocked, McClellan could only nod in
approval as Lizzy soaked in the adoration of the Fenway faithful. However,
this would not be her only historical first. In 1928 she played on
the national league all-star game for the National League all-star team in an
exhibition against the Boston Braves which made her the first person of any
gender to play on both the American and National League all-star teams. Perhaps even more interesting, she is also the first one to play
against, and even play with, the Negro Leagues playing first base for the
Cleveland colored Giants when they came to Rhode Island. As there a matter of
fact, she actually collected a hit off of the great Satchel Paige. In an interview
with Josh Gibson, Josh was asked if Paige had really given Murphy all he had.
This actually irritated Gibson and he said “of course he did because Paige
would never have wanted to have the embarrassment of giving up a hit to a woman. Murphy
played for the all-stars for 17 years which serves as a testament to what she
was able to do on the diamond. Had she simply been a gimmick, her lifespan in
the game would have been not have been long-lasting, and she wouldn’t
have had a career that lasted about as long as an average major leaguer. Even
the papers wrote about her. When they wrote about her, they never marginalized
her and you know kind of saying that she was just a woman playing. Rather, they
recognized her by her name and for her skill – often times capturing headlines
such as “Warren girl an expert player” “Lizzie Murphy in game”, “Tyler will hurl against Lizzie Murphy”, “Tomorrow ‘Spike’ Murphy woman baseball
wizard,” “”Learned game throwing stones,” Ty and the Babe better beware of Liz breaks
in the game if Liz breaks into game. In addition to her talents on the field she
was also known for her brand of self-promotion. Not only did she wear
jerseys boasting her name, she also made extra money selling postcards featuring
her picture and signing autographs.Good luck finding one of those! I haven’t
found one yet, pictures but not ones for sale.
Lizzie paved the way for early 20th century players like Jackie Mitchell who
at 17 years old struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, however, unfortunately three
days after that feat the Commissioner of baseball judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis
voided Mitchell’s contract declaring women unfit to play baseball because the
game was too strenuous. Not long after this decision Lizzy officially retired
from baseball in 1935 at the age of 41. She got married two years later only to
have her husband died a few years after that, and without any nest egg or
substantial inheritance she was relegated back to the wool mill and
other jobs to support herself. And she lived in relative anonymity for the
remainder of her life, passing away in 1964 at the age of 70. She was
posthumously inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1994. Now
her inscription in the Hall of Fame reads “the late Elizabeth Lizzie Murphy
1894 to 1964 a native of Warren was an outstanding athlete who was the first
woman ever to play the major league baseball competition and who starred for
more than 30 years for otherwise all male professional semi-professional
and amateur baseball teams throughout New England and other eastern states
she has been cited as a legend in her time by both the National Baseball Hall
of Fame and the Rhode Island General Assembly her 100th birthday was
celebrated as a town-wide observance in Warren on April 13 1994.” Lizzy may not
have been the first nor the last woman to play professional baseball but her
contributions are undeniable. Thus, I believe it’s important that her story be
told and remembered is the part of the historiography of our great game. I would
encourage all of you to take a look at the history of women in baseball and I
think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. All right well that wraps up this edition of
oddities on Lizzie Murphy. I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode if you feel so
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13 thoughts on “Baseball Oddities S01E08: Lizzy Murphy

  1. For some reason it wasn’t captioned. Sorry. You’re allowed to delete my comment. I’m trying to figure out why some of your videos are not captioned. There may be some issues on YouTube with some videos not allowing videos to be captioned. Nevertheless, I love watching your baseball history statements. If you’re having problems deleting my comment, I’ll delete it myself if you say so. I understand the problems with internet videos.

  2. Awesome video as it’s now captioned. You got me emotional watching this. My mom’s name is Sandie Murphy who dated Fred Gladding at Flat Rock, Michigan. Fred pitched a no hitter for the Flat Rock Rams in the 50s. Fred Gladding also pitched for the Detroit Tigers from 1961-1967 and the Houston Astros from 1968-1973. According to my mom, Fred’s first pitch in MLB it was hit over Tiger Stadium in 1964 by Don Mincher of the Washington Senators, as Fred was still heartbroken over the break up with mom. I now doubt my mom’s claim as I find it hard to believe Fred did no pitching from 1961-1964 for the Tigers as she wasn’t really interested in baseball. Fred Gladding is ranked 137th place with the most saves with 109 in MLB. She also dated Ron Oestrike who also played baseball for the Flat Rock Rams who later became a manager at Eastern Michigan University’s baseball team and is the winningest coach at Eastern Michigan University. The baseball stadium is now named Ron Oestrike stadium. Keep up the good research and play ball! Thanks, Bob Jones.

  3. Grrreat History lesson, video & content. I thank thee for sharing all. Yackety yack, don't Talk Back with Lizzy!. Go#DetroitTigers gooo…

  4. Great video, this was super interesting. What a great story she has. And Hornsby playing in drag could be a whole video by itself. Thanks for the great content.

  5. I am familiar with Lizzy, I am a big AAGPBL fan and came across her in my research. check out my AAGPBL collection so far here

  6. WOWZERS! ! Love this history and learning about Irish-American baseball player!! Loved it, Chris! ! Tons of great info! I can't believe this story has not been told, yet.

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