Red Sox Recall is a weekly feature focusing on the vast array of colorful characters that have played for and against the Red Sox, poignant moments in Sox lore and other, perhaps forgotten, memories that make up the rich history of the Olde Town Team.
This week marks the 91st anniversary of the first appearance by a woman in a major league baseball game. And it happened at Fenway Park.
On August 14, 1922, Lizzie “The Queen of Baseball” Murphy played first base for a team dubbed the American League All-Star's. The exhibition game against the Red Sox was organized to help raise money for the family of former Red Sox player and manager Tommy McCarthy, who had died nine days before. Murphy didn't come to bat, but she did play in the field that day.
According to a 1965 Sports Illustrated piece by John Hanlon, it was during that game where Murphy displayed the baseball skill of which she was most proud; namely, her ability to handle anything thrown her way. The third baseman on her own team that day was the one who—for spite, Lizzie always suspected—put her quickly to the test.
"The first man up hit to him at third," she said, "and he held onto the ball as long as he could and then gunned it across. What an arm! I fooled him, though, and handled the ball easily. He went over to our shortstop and said, 'She'll do.' What he didn't know was that I liked fast ones better."
Born in Warren, Rhode Island in 1894, Murphy was once called the best women’s player in the country. Known as “Spike” to many, Murphy played from 1920-1935 on Boston’s Eddie Carr’s All Stars. These were not “League of Their Own” style ball clubs. The teams consisted of all-male, former big league players. Lizzie shocked her contemporaries by playing in the all-male environment and wearing the same uniform as the men. A reporter asked Lizzie about the bad language the male players used. “Of course they cursed and swore," she said, "but I didn’t mind. I knew all the words myself.”
Eddie Carr later said, “She produces the goods and, all in all, she's a real player. 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."
Lizzie could certainly hold her own. She once singled off the legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige in a game in which she was the first woman to appear in the Negro League. When asked if Satchel had gone easy on her, the great Josh Gibson said, “Satch didn’t want to be charged with a hit by a woman of any color.”
As Lizzie became better known throughout the Eastern U.S. and Canada, she would sell postcards of herself for ten cents between innings. Murphy always played in a uniform that had “Lizzie” scripted across the front and back “so that people could pick out who they had come to see”, she said.
Lizzie played professional baseball for 25 years and retired with a career batting average of .300. She died July 27, 1964.
91 years ago this week, there was a woman "manning" first base at Fenway Park. Think she could out hit Mike Napoli?