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Toni "Tomboy" Stone made history in 1953 when she joined the Negro Leagues, making her the first woman ever to play professionally in a men's league.
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Female baseball player Toni Stone made history in 1953 when she was signed by the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues, making her the first woman ever to play professionally in a men's league. Stone began playing ball when she was only 10 years old. Over the years, many people tried to dissuaded her from the game, including her husband. After baseball, she worked as a nurse. She died in 1996.
Born Marcenia Lyle Stone on July 17, 1921, in St. Paul, Minnesota, Toni "Tomboy" Stone made history in 1953 when she was signed to play second base for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues, making her the first woman to play professionally in a men's league.
Stone's parents believed strongly that their four children needed to get a good education. But their athletically inclined daughter didn't share the same talent in the classroom as her siblings. Instead, she loved to compete, and excelled in all kinds of sports including ice skating, track, and the high jump. Baseball, however, was her true love and she spent her off-hours at a local park, soaking up the culture and devoting hours toward improving her own game.
Her parents didn't approve. Around the time she was 10 years old, Stone was forced to sit down with a local priest, whom her parents had invited over in hopes that he could talk their daughter out of her interest in baseball. Instead, toward the end of the sit-down, Father Keith asked Stone to play on his team in the Catholic Midget League.
At age 15, Stone was quietly earning a reputation as something of a phenom. She played with the Twin City Colored Giants, a traveling men's baseball club, and took to the diamond for clubs competing in the men's meatpacking league.
In the 1940s, Stone moved to San Francisco to help a sick sister. It was there that her life began to finally change in the way she'd long hoped. But it was a humble start. She would later claim that she had only 50 cents in her pocket upon her arrival, and after staying in the bus station for several nights, she started to scrape together a living by working at a cafeteria and at a shipyard as a forklift operator.
Stone also began what can only be considered a personal reinvention. She changed her name to Toni Stone and dropped 10 years off her age to increase her appeal to a men's team.
It wasn't long before she was playing baseball again, signing on to play with an American Legion club. In 1949, she joined the San Francisco Sea Lions of the West Coast Negro Baseball League. The pay wasn't terrible (about $200 a month) and it enhanced Stone's exposure to high profile managers and team owners.
But it wasn't always an easy life. As a woman, Stone was subject to a barrage of insults from fans and sometimes even teammates who objected to seeing a female compete in a "men's" game. The complicated rules surrounding Jim Crow America only amplified the pressure, as she and other black players had to be careful not to patron white-only restaurants and other establishments.
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