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Her name is lost in history for all but the most ardent baseball fans. Mary Elizabeth “Lizzy” Murphy, the Queen of Baseball, was the first woman to play for a major league baseball team.
Born in 1894 in Rhode Island, Murphy had sports in her blood. Her father was a semi-professional baseball player. As a child, Murphy played a variety of sports, but baseball was where she excelled. At first, Murphy was excluded from the local youth team because of her gender, but eventually persuaded the boys to allow her to be a bat girl and later to play first base.
By the time Murphy was 13, she had quit school to work in a factory. Murphy continued to play baseball and when she was 15, she was playing for local, semi-pro teams.
“I about decided that baseball wasn’t a game for a girl and that I’d quit,” Murphy said later in life, reflecting on her career. “But then I went to watch one of the games and got so excited I couldn’t stay out. When I see a batter swinging wild or stepping back from the ball it makes me crazy to take a turn at the plate and line one out.”
Lizzy Murphy Plays in the Big Leagues
Baseball players in the early 20th century were paid based on donations made by the crowd. A team manager refused to pay Murphy because she was a woman. However, it wasn’t beneath him to use Murphy as a marketing tool to generate publicity for games.
When Murphy learned this, she demanded both her fair share of the pay and a $5 per game fee. “No money, no Newport,” she told her manager, refusing to play the next game if her demands weren’t met. The manager relented.
Murphy played about 100 games annually, touring throughout the U.S. and Canada with the Providence Independents and the Ed Carr’s All-Stars of Boston. She also sold autographed postcards. These were sold for 10 cents, and she often made as much as $50 a game.
“She swells attendance and she’s worth every cent I pay her,” Carr said. “But more important, she produces the goods. She’s a real player and a good fellow.”
In 1922, Murphy participated in a charity exhibition game to raise money for the family of Tommy “Little Mac” McCarthy, a Red Sox player who recently had died. Murphy played first base for the American League All-Stars.
In 1928, Murphy played on the National League All-Star team, becoming the first person male or female to play in both leagues’ All-Star teams.
She retired in 1935.
Another Pioneering Player: Alta Weiss
Murphy isn’t the only woman to break the gender barrier in baseball. Alta Weiss, born in 1890, began playing semi-professional ball in 1907.
Weiss was born in rural Ohio, the daughter of a physician. Her father recognized her talents when she was only a toddler and eventually established a high school and a ball park, so that his daughter would have an opportunity to play.
In 1907, Weiss and her family were spending time in Vermillion, OH, when the town’s mayor spotted her playing catch with some local boys. Impressed, he tried to persuade the manager of the Vermillion Independents to sign her. The manager had no intention of hiring a woman – that is until he saw Weiss strike out 15 men.
Initially, Weiss played in traditional women’s clothing. “I found out you can’t play ball in skirts,” she said in 1908. “I tried. I wore a skirt over my bloomers and nearly broke my neck.” She switch to wearing bloomers with wide pant legs.
Weiss retired from baseball in 1922, eight years after receiving a medical degree from the Starling-Ohio Medical School, predecessor to the Ohio State University College of Medicine. Weiss paid for her tuition with the money she earned while playing ball and was the only woman in her graduating class.
What are your thoughts on these trailblazing athletes? Leave a comment below.
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