Mo’Ne Davis has become the queen of Little League Baseball. The 13-year-old pitcher from Philadelphia — one of two girls in the Williamsport, Pennsylvania, series — threw a two-hit shutout in the opening game for her team.
The original “Queen of Baseball” would be proud.
Only 18 girls have ever played in the Little League World Series, and just four of them have been American. So now we celebrate the return of young girls — and maybe women — to the game of baseball with boys and perhaps men as if it is breaking new ground.
It is, though, a return. A century ago, women playing the National Pastime was not such a novelty. Their numbers were growing, and so were the occasional opportunities to play with and against men on a competitive level.
But, ironically, it was Little League Baseball that dealt the death blow to women playing with the founding of the organization in 1939 and the decision that it would be for boys only.
Softball began growing in popularity, and was emphasized by physical educators as a less strenuous way for women to participate in the competition of baseball. Women who were determined to play hardball did so among themselves, the most well-known outlet of which was the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, founded by Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley during World War II.
But just two decades earlier, the door had seemingly been open for women to possibly be more than a wartime exhibition. There was debate about whether women would be playing baseball with men. And at the center of the debate was the original “Queen of Baseball” — Lizzie Murphy.
She grew up in a man’s world — born in Warren, Rhode Island, in 1894, and working in one of the textile mills there when she was 12 years old. When she wasn’t working, she would compete against the boys in town in all sorts of sports — baseball in particular.
In an interview years later, Murphy talked about how her love for the game grew.
“I was always dreaming of the outdoors and baseball,” 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 the team for only one reason — I used to steal my father’s gloves and bats and bring them along, so I was a valuable asset to them when I could furnish some of the equipment.”
Soon she became more valuable as a player, and by the age of 15, she was playing for the top amateur baseball clubs in town — the Warren Silk Hats, the perennial Inter-State League champions, and the Warren Baseball Club.
Murphy would be recruited to play for the town semi-pro baseball team, and became its star attraction. She had the talent and the toughness to survive and thrive in a man’s game.
The story goes that the team managed to bring in $85 for her first appearance in a game, but when the money was divided among the team, she received nothing. That didn’t happen again.
Warren had a big game coming up on the road in Newport, and Murphy’s presence on the Warren team was a big selling point for promoting the game. So when it came time to get on the bus for the game in Newport, Murphy told the manager she wasn’t going unless she got a cut of the gate. “No money, no Newport,” she said.