Toni Stone: First Woman to Play Big-League Baseball.

 A detail from a newspaper photograph of baseball player Toni Stone dressed in a long coat holding travel luggage alighting an airplane staircase.

Toni Stone. Detroit Tribune (Detroit, MI), April 25, 1953, p. 7.

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.

Detail of baseball player Toni Stone dressed in a uniform with the wording CLOWNS across the front shaking hands with a taller man dressed in a suit jacket and pork pie hat. Visible text underneath reads: Toni STONE and Joe LOUIS.

Toni Stone (left) shaking hands with boxing great Joe Louis. Miami Times (Miami, FL), April 11, 1953, p. 5.

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.

 

 In order to keep fans interested, Negro leagues drafted women players including Stone, Connie Morgan, and Mamie “Peanut” Johnson. Stone’s break came when Syd Pollock, owner of the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League, signed her in 1953. She took the spot of Hank Aaron, who had signed with the Milwaukee Braves. According to a New York Times obituary (published in the November 10, 1996 issue), Pollock encouraged her to wear a skirt during the games, but she refused.
 A detail from a caricature of baseball player Toni Stone dressed in a baseball uniform with a hat and bending to catch a ball in a baseball mit with the text "Toni STONE."n."

Toni STONE. Jackson Advocate (Jackson, MS), May 2, 1953, p. 2.

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:

 

Detail of text of an article from a 1953 newspaper with visible text: “Toni Stone is capable of holding her own against the strongest male opponents and readily admits that none of her opposition takes it any easier on her because of her sex. She’s been playing with and against male baseball teams since the age of fifteen.”

“Which Club has the Toni?” Jackson Advocate (Jackson, MS), May 2, 1953, p. 2.

 

 

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. 

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