Toni Stone biography
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.
Playing for the San Francisco Sea Lions
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.
The Indianapolis Clowns and Kansas City Monarchs
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.