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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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Still, Stone's talent was hard to miss. In 1953, she caught her big break when the Indianapolis Clowns signed her to its roster. The club, which had at one time developed a reputation as a showy kind of team, not unlike what basketball's Harlem Globetrotters would become, was in need of a boost.
Since Jackie Robinson's first appearance in the Majors in 1947,
the Negro Leagues had seen attendance and talent drop considerably. The departures included the Clowns' prized second baseman, Hank Aaron. In the wake of all this upheaval, team owner Syd Pollack figured Stone might draw some fans.
Stone, however, played hard and didn't back down from any challenges that came her way. Backed by some pretty good Clowns PR to showcase their new female player, Stone appeared in 50 games that year, hitting a respectable .243—a stretch that included getting a hit off the legendary pitcher, Satchel Paige. She also got the chance to play with some excellent young talent, including Willie Mays and Ernie Banks.
But for Stone, she was a part of the roster and she wasn't. The fact that she was a woman meant that she wasn't allowed in the men's locker rooms. Her opponents showed little deference, either, sometimes coming hard at her on a slide with their spikes pointed up.
Stone's time with the Clowns was short. In the off-season, she was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs. It proved to be a difficult adjustment for her. Age had finally caught up to the fleet-footed Stone, and her new teammates and bosses resented her. At the end of the year, she retired.
Toni Stone, who married Aurelious Alberga in 1950, a well-known San Francisco political player who was some 40 years her senior, spent her retirement life in Oakland. Eventually she earned the respect she'd long deserved from the baseball world. In 1993 she was inducted into the Women's Sports Hall of Fame in Long Island, New York.
Toni Stone died of heart and respiratory problems on November 2, 1996, at the age of 75, at an Alameda, California, nursing home.
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