One of summer's sporting wonders in New England and eastern Canada in the 1920s and early 1930s was the appearance and performance of Lizzie Murphy as first baseman on men's baseball teams barnstorming the region.
Early in her life and profession Lizzie put aside her Christian name of Elizabeth and was billed variously as "Spike" Murphy, "the best woman baseball player in the country," "The Queen of Baseball," or, simply and as she preferred it, just "Lizzie." That was the name she had emblazoned in large letters on the blouse of her singular touring uniform. The name of the team, whatever it happened to be, was of less interest to the public than her own. When at business, Lizzie wore her reddish-blonde hair wound tightly around her head and tucked up under her peaked cap. She was a tallish, tomboyish 5 feet 6 inches tall, and her playing weight was 120 pounds. In the field she chattered constantly in the fashion of ballplayers who possessed the old vinegar.
Only her fame and the name on her blouse, rather than a mincing, feminine approach to the game's demands, set Lizzie apart from her teammates. Lizzie could field, throw and run with any man among them. Her only shortcoming was a perhaps understandable lack of power with the bat.
At first, when Lizzie started barnstorming New England with Eddie Carr's All-Stars of Boston in the early '20s, the ever present wowsers protested Manager Carr's exploiting a woman in such fashion. Carr did not check his swing in replying.
"She swells attendance, and she's worth every cent I pay her," Carr said. "But most important, she produces the goods and, all in all, she's a real player and a good fellow." "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."
Back where Lizzie came from—Warren, R.I., a small town on the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay—there was no quarrel with these ultimates of Carr's, except he didn't go far enough. Warren felt that Lizzie was all of them and more—a veritable female Frank Merriwell.
Her older and only brother, Henry, to this day claims that no boy Lizzie's age on the east shore could keep up with her on ice skates. She also was an excellent swimmer. Her background was French on her mother's side, and she spoke the language fluently—if Canadian-style. (Once in a game in Canada, Lizzie overheard the opposition's first-base coach unsuspectingly giving the steal signal in French. Lizzie called time, set up a code with her catcher and flashed it each time a runner was to be sent down. "Nailed five of them that way," she said proudly.)
Lizzie also won local renown as a long-distance runner, dabbled in soccer and was proficient on the violin. But her preoccupation, hobby and passion remained baseball. Brother Henry started her at it, playing catch. Her mother fretted about it and her father, a mill-worker and baseball player himself, encouraged Lizzie, thinking it a tomboy's interest that would pass. He underestimated his Lizzie.
"When I was at an age when kids threw stones at cats and hens," Lizzie said, recalling once her indoctrination into the sport, "I guess I hit the mark as often as any of the boys. When I got a little older, I would join the boys playing one o' cat."
Around the age of 12 she was put to work in one of Warren's then flourishing woolen mills.