Marcenia Lyle Stone was born July 17, 1921, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. According to her biography, Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, the First Woman to Play Professional Baseball in the Negro Leagues, young Stone was only interested in sports. In fact, she was known simply as Tomboy growing up. As a teenager, she played for a local semi-professional team, the Twin City Colored Giants, as a second baseman. She then played for the Peninsula Baseball League and later the San Francisco Sea Lions, a semi-professional team with the West Coast Negro Baseball League, and the New Orleans Creoles in the Negro Southern League. At some point in her life, she dropped the names Marcenia and Tomboy and became Toni.
After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers beginning in 1947, more Black players were signed to the previously segregated American and National Leagues.
Although she was originally signed to increase ticket sales, she proved to be far more than just a novelty woman player. One newspaper article said of her playing– “she’s agile, has good baseball instinct, and knows what a Louisville slugger is used for.” Typically, she played the first two or three innings of the game, before veteran Ray Neil, the league’s leading batter at the time, took over.
Overall, she played in 50 games and had an admirable .243 batting average. At one time, she was considered fourth in the league. It was reported that she got a hit off the legendary pitcher Satchel Paige and played with future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Willie Mays.
Stone was incredibly talented in the sport but despite this, some players criticized her publicly, including Clown’s player/manager, Buster Haywood. She didn’t let it bother her. To quote a newspaper interview published in 1953: “Toni says she does not expect the boys to ‘let up’ on her because she is a woman, in fact, ‘they never do,’ she added.” The Jackson Advocate reported:
Stone played for the Clowns until 1954 when the team traded her to the Kansas City Monarchs. With the Monarchs, she played against Connie Morgan, who played with the Clowns at the time. The Monarchs won the game against the Clowns and the next day, the Evening Star said of the audience: “about 7,000 baseball fans shared the opinion today that the Monarchs’ girl second baseman, Toni Stone, is quite the ball player.” Stone retired from baseball in 1955. In 1993, she was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. She died three years later on November 2, 1996 at the age of 75.
- Search Chronicling America* for newspaper coverage of Toni Stone and Black women in baseball.
- Check out Chronicling America research guides on topics in women’s history.
- Read more Headlines & Heroes blog posts related to women’s history.
- Check out these additional books:
Ackmann, Martha. Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, The First Woman To Play Professional Baseball in the Negro League. Chicago, Ill.: Lawrence Hill Books, c2010.
Hubbard, Crystal. Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream. New York: Lee & Low Books, c2005.
*The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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