Toni Stone

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Toni Stone
Toni Stone.jpg
Second Base
Born: (1921-07-17)July 17, 1921
Bluefield, West Virginia
Died: November 2, 1996(1996-11-02) (aged 75)
Alameda, California
Batted: Right Threw: Right

Toni Stone (July 17, 1921 – November 2, 1996), born as Marcenia Lyle Stone in West Virginia,[1] was the first of three women to play professional baseball full-time for the Indianapolis Clowns, in the previously all-male Negro leagues.[2][3][4] This also made her the first woman to play as a regular on an American big-league professional baseball team.[5][6] A baseball player from her early childhood, she went on to play for the San Francisco Sea Lions, The New Orleans Creoles, the Indianapolis Clowns, and the Kansas City Monarchs before retiring from baseball in 1954.[1][4]

Childhood and family[edit]

Born in West Virginia to Boykin and Willa Maynard Stone, Toni Stone had two sisters and a brother.[7] Her father was a barber, a graduate of Tuskegee Institute, then he served in the U.S. Army during World War I. He married a hairdresser named Willa Maynard.[8][2]

Stone was ten years old when her family moved to the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota[3]  and her parents opened Boykin's Barber and Beauty Shop.[8] She enjoyed playing baseball with boys in the neighborhood, and earned the nickname "Tomboy." Her mother, who was worried that baseball was not ladylike, bought a pair of figure skates for Stone. Despite performing well in a city-wide competition, her interest lay with baseball. Certainly, softball was not "fast enough" to capture her interest.[2] Various reports record skill at swimming, track, basketball, and even football.[9] At school, she wore pants instead of skirts and was teased for her preferences. Reportedly, she often skipped school to play baseball.[8]

It was not as much that Stone did not enjoy intellectual work, she was an avid library patron and reader of The Chicago Defender. She simply did not find that the content she was taught in school was reflective of her reality.[2]

A Catholic priest, who her parents consulted for help, recognized Stone's strength as a pitcher and encouraged her to try out for the Claver Catholic Church boys' baseball team in the Catholic Midget League, which is similar to today's Little League.[3][10] Because it was a church activity, her parents consented to her participation.[8] Unfortunately, the coach was uninterested in cultivating her skill, so Stone taught herself by reading rule books. In hopes of learning to be a better player, Stone joined the girls' softball team, HighLex, but was dissatisfied with play in that sport.[8] Still searching for instruction, Stone would show up and watch the baseball school run by the St. Paul Saints' manager, Gabby Street. "I just couldn’t get rid of her until I gave her a chance,’’ Street told Ebony Magazine in an interview, ‘‘Every time I chased her away, she would go around the corner and come back to plague me again.’’[11]

By age 16, Stone was playing weekend games with the barnstorming Twin City Colored Giants.[12] She got paid about $2-$3 a game, so parents let her play. She eventually dropped out of high school with the hope of making a living playing baseball.[8] In 1943, she moved to San Francisco, where her sister lived.

Making a living on odd jobs while living in the Fillmore District, she took on the name "Toni Stone," which she felt was a better fit for her identity than "Marcenia." At Jack's Tavern, the first Black-owned nightclub in the neighborhood,[13][14] she met Captain Aurelious Pescia Alberga, a native of Oakland and a WWI veteran. They married in 1950.[15][16] While he continued to live in the San Francisco Bay Area as Stone pursued her career on baseball teams around the country, they remained married until he died at the age of 103 in the 1980s.[17]


Spending time at Jack's Tavern on Sutter, Stone became friends with one of the owners, Alroyd "Al" Love.[18] Love introduced her to the local American Legion Baseball team, which was part of the national network of amateur baseball teams for teenagers.[19] Stone had unofficially played some ball with an American Legion team in Minnesota.[20] In San Francisco, because of age limits for the American Legion teams, Stone subtracted ten years from her age,[19] claiming to be 17 instead of 27. She played with the team in San Francisco from 1943 to 1945.[15][21]

Stone talked her way onto the roster of the San Francisco Sea Lions by spring of 1949.[22] The 1946 failure of the short-lived West Coast Negro Baseball Association,[22] of which the Sea Lions had been a member, inspired owners Hal King and Harold Morris[23][20] to take a chance on Stone's argument that she would draw crowds. She batted in two runs in her first time up. At the time, the Sea Lions were barnstorming around the country, so the work was hard.[20] Stone soon became discontented with the owner of the Sea Lions after she discovered she was paid less than her male teammates.[20] Stone joined the New Orleans Creoles (1949–1952).

For the 1953 season, Stone was signed by Syd Pollack, owner of the Indianapolis Clowns, to play second base, the position Hank Aaron had played for the team before joining the Atlanta Braves (then the Milwaukee Braves). Pollock reportedly was trying to hire Stone for the Indianapolis Clowns since the close of the 1950 baseball season.[16] While the media reported that she finally agreed to sign on for a staggering $12,000 for the season,[16] many sources identify that figure as an untruth for publicity purposes. Other reports are that Pollock wanted Stone to play in a skirt or in shorts, and she refused,[10] though she did wear a foam rubber chest protector.[24] Pollock was a partner in several business ventures with Abe Saperstein, owner of the Harlem Globetrotters, and also one of the co-founders of the West Coast Negro Baseball Association.[19][25] Similar to the trick basketball team, The Clowns both provided clown-style entertainment at games and played serious ball. Having a woman on the team attracted more spectators, but Stone also played seriously. She played 50 games in her season with the Clowns, batting .243.[26][21] In any event, the newspapers at the time claimed that attendance at Clowns' games hit record levels when she started playing, and she was heavily featured on the team's promotional materials.[21][27]

Stone's contract was sold to the Kansas City Monarchs prior to the 1954 season, and she retired following the season because of lack of playing time.[3]

After the 1954 season, Stone moved to Oakland, California, to work as a nurse and care for her sick husband.[28][29] Toni Stone died on November 2, 1996, of heart failure at a nursing home in Alameda, California. She was 75 years old.[19]


Although there was a baseball league for women, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, it remained unofficially segregated, claiming that only White women met their exacting beauty standards.[17][30]

Stone was the first female player in the Negro Leagues, and she was not met with open arms. Bunny Downs, manager of the Clowns, had reportedly once told Stone that "she'd better stick to knitting and home cooking," but publicly claimed to be won over after seeing her play.[31] Most of the male ball players shunned her and gave her a hard time because she was a woman.[32] Stone was quite proud of the fact that the male players were out to get her. She would show off the scars on her left wrist and remember the time she had been spiked by a runner trying to take out the woman standing on second base. "He was out," she recalled.

Even though she was part of the team, she was not allowed in the locker room. If she was lucky, she would be allowed to change in the umpire's locker room. Once, Stone was asked to wear a skirt while playing for sex appeal, but she would not do it. Even though she felt like she was "one of the guys," the people around her did not. While playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, she spent most of the game on the bench, next to the men who hated her. "It was hell," she said.


Various biographic elements of Stone's life were fabricated for the popular media, apparently for marketing purposes.[33] For example, Stone's purported $12,000 annual signing salary with the Clowns,[10][34][35] which Pollock claimed was more than Jackie Robinson's first major-league contract,[36] was more likely around $350-$400 a month. The Clown's publicists touted her bachelor's degree from Macalester College. Stone also dropped ten years from her age in order to join a team for teenagers in San Francisco, and retained the lower age on her baseball resume. Her legacy also battles some evidence that the Clowns inflated her statistics, although widely accepted stats do indicate that she had the fourth highest batting average in her league in 1953, at .364.[15]

The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) has looked particularly closely at Stone's claim that she got a hit off Satchel Paige, of the St. Louis Browns, on Easter Sunday in 1953.[29][30] While no one has disproven the claim entirely, during the spring training when the exhibition game purportedly happened, there is no record of the Browns playing the Clowns.[12]

Additionally, the passing of information on Stone from source to source has distorted some details of her life. For example, newspaper articles frequently claim that she "graduated from Roosevelt High School," while others write that "after completing grammar school, she entered Roosevelt High."[34][37] Other sources name other high schools altogether. In fact, more scholarly sources have confirmed that she dropped out of high school.

Finally, there have been certain claims made about Stone's life that researchers cannot verify one way or the other, such as that she played for the New Orleans Black Pelicans.[20]


All of these accomplishments may make her "one of the best players you have never heard of", according to the Negro League Baseball Players Association.[38]

In 1985, Stone was inducted into the Women's Sports Foundation's International Women's Sports Hall of Fame.[28] In 1990, she was included in two exhibits at the Baseball Hall of Fame, one on "Women in Baseball" and another on "Negro League Baseball".[39] In 1993, Stone was inducted into the Women's Sports Hall of Fame,[40] as well as the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame. In 1990, Stone's hometown of Saint Paul, Minnesota declared March 6 "Toni Stone Day". Saint Paul also has a field named after Toni Stone located at the Dunning Baseball Complex.[3][41]

In 2020, the Society for American Baseball Research nominated Stone for the Dorothy Seymour Mills Lifetime Achievement Award.[42]

Biographical plays[edit]

In 1996, the Great American History Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, staged Roger Nieboer's Tomboy Stone[43][17] soon after Stone's death, though it was not a critical success.[44]

Almost twenty years later, Toni Stone, written by Lydia Diamond under commission from the Roundabout Theater Company[43] and premiering Off-Broadway in 2019, was based on Martha Ackmann's full-length biography, Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone. The play addresses Stone's baseball career, as well as the challenges that she faced as a black woman.[45] Within a year of its publication, the play had been staged by several theaters around the country, though the COVID-19 Pandemic did inhibit its production.[46][47][48][49][50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Rosengren, John (Summer 2019). "EYEWITNESS: Tomboy Stone". Minnesota History. 66(6): 232 – via JSTOR.
  2. ^ a b c d Martha, Ackmann (2010). Curveball : the remarkable story of Toni Stone, the first woman to play professional baseball in the Negro League. ISBN 9781556527968. OCLC 680281078.
  3. ^ a b c d e Jones, Wendy (July 17, 2017). "Barrier-breaking athlete Toni Stone got her start in baseball in St. Paul". MinnPost.
  4. ^ a b "The Negro League's Last Hope: Three Brave Women". The Hardball Times. Retrieved 2020-09-06.
  5. ^ Mcg, Robert (1996-11-10). "Toni Stone, 75, First Woman To Play Big-League Baseball". Retrieved 2015-04-16.
  6. ^ "THE Black woman of pro baseball, Toni Stone". Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  7. ^ "Indianapolis Clowns Sign Girl Keystoner". Alabama Tribune. 1953-02-27.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Stone, Toni." Encyclopedia of World Biography, edited by James Craddock, 2nd ed., vol. 33, Gale, 2013, pp. 312-314. Gale General OneFile, Accessed 6 Sept. 2020.
  9. ^ Harvey, Brian (1994-06-05). "Woman in a league of her own breaking baseball gender barrier". Daily Sentinel Sun.
  10. ^ a b c Rosengren, John (Summer 2019). "EYEWITNESS: Tomboy Stone". Minnesota History. 66(6): 232 – via JSTOR.
  11. ^ “Woman Player Says She Can 'Take Care of Self' in Game,” Ebony, June/July 1953, 48
  12. ^ a b Thornley, Stew. "Toni Stone - Society for American Baseball Research". Retrieved 2020-09-07.
  13. ^ Kelley, Tim; VerPlanck, Christopher; Williams, Al (2016). African American Citywide Historic Context Statement. San Francisco: San Francisco Planning Department. p. 71.
  14. ^ Pepin, Elizabeth. "PBS | The Fillmore: Music Scene". Retrieved 2020-09-07.
  15. ^ a b c "Stone, Marcenia Lyle (Toni), 1921–1996 | MNopedia". Retrieved 2020-09-07.
  16. ^ a b c Ward, Alan (1953-03-25). "On Second Thought". Oakland Tribune.
  17. ^ a b c "Toni Stone Dies; Played Men's Pro Ball in '50s". The Washington Post. 1996-11-06.
  18. ^ Sward, Susan (1996-11-06). "OBITUARY -- Toni Stone". SFGate. Retrieved 2020-09-07.
  19. ^ a b c d Thomas, Robert Mcg., Jr. "Toni Stone, 75, First Woman To Play Big-League Baseball [Obit.]". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 July 2020.
  20. ^ a b c d e Martha, Ackmann (2010). Curveball : the remarkable story of Toni Stone, the first woman to play professional baseball in the Negro League. ISBN 9781556527968. OCLC 680281078.
  21. ^ a b c "Negro Nines Play Here Tonight; Gal Second Sacker With Clowns". News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware). 1953-07-18.
  22. ^ a b "The Negro League's Last Hope: Three Brave Women". The Hardball Times. Retrieved 2020-09-08.
  23. ^ Heaphy, Leslie A. (2003). The Negro leagues, 1869-1960. United Kingdom: McFarland & Company. pp. 213–214, 220. ISBN 9780786413805.
  24. ^ White, Maury (1953-05-28). "Makeup? No! Nothing Feminine About Baseball". Des Moines Tribune.
  25. ^ Online Archive of California. "Guide to the West Coast Negro Baseball Association Collection". Retrieved 2020-09-08.
  26. ^ Negro League Baseball Players Association. "Stone, Toni". Retrieved 2020-09-08.
  27. ^ Davis, Amira Rose (2016). "No League of Their Own: Baseball Black Women, and the Politics of Representation". Radical History Review. 125: 72–78.
  28. ^ a b Thomas, Robert McG. (1966-11-10). "Toni Stone, 75, First Woman To Play Big-League Baseball: A tough second baseman who would not play in a skirt". New York Times.
  29. ^ a b Harvey, Brian (1994-06-05). "Woman in a league of her own breaking baseball gender barrier". Daily Sentinel Sun.
  30. ^ a b Richard, A.J. (Spring 2019). "Playing With The Boys: Gender, Race, and Baseball in Post-War America". Baseball Research Journal. 48(1): 18–28 – via
  31. ^ Jurgens, Jerry (1953-08-14). "Sport-Scope". The Daily Times.
  32. ^ Yang, Avery. "Black History Month: The Legacy of Toni Stone". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2020-09-08.
  33. ^ Thornley, Stew (2006). Baseball in Minnesota: The Definitive History. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press. pp. 164–168. ISBN 9780873515511.
  34. ^ a b "Indianapolis Clowns Sign Girl Keystoner". Alabama Tribune. 1953-02-27.
  35. ^ "Indianapolis, Kansas City Play Official Loop Game at Conoco". Ponca City News. 1953-08-11.
  36. ^ Ardell, J.H. (2001). "Mamie "Peanut" Johnson: The Last Female Voice of the Negro Leagues". NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture. 10(1): 181–192 – via Project MUSE.
  37. ^ "Girl Athlete Will Oppose Merchant '9'". Post Crescent. 1949-08-26.
  38. ^ Negro League Baseball Players Association. "Stone, Toni". Retrieved 2020-09-08.
  39. ^ "Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend honors St. Paul 'tomboy' Toni Stone". MinnPost. 2011-03-18. Retrieved 2020-09-08.
  40. ^ "Stone, Toni". Negro League Baseball Players Association. Retrieved 2020-07-30.
  41. ^ "A New Honor". Star Tribune. 1996-12-27.
  42. ^ SABR (2020-09-02). "Announcing finalists for 2020 Dorothy Seymour Mills Lifetime Achievement Award – Society for American Baseball Research". Retrieved 2020-09-08.
  43. ^ a b Deb, Sopan (2019-06-11). "Big-League Baseball's First Woman, on a Stage of Her Own". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-09-06.
  44. ^ "Tomboy Stone : Great American History Theatre". Star Tribune. 1997-02-04. p. 38. Retrieved 2020-09-06.
  45. ^ "Review: In 'Toni Stone,' America's Pastime Meets America's Problem - The New York Times". Retrieved 2019-07-05.
  46. ^ "Toni Stone". Retrieved 2020-09-06.
  47. ^ "'Toni Stone' tells story of little-known baseball hero". The San Francisco Examiner. 2020-03-12. Retrieved 2020-09-06.
  48. ^ "Toni Stone". Concord Theatricals. Retrieved 2020-09-06.
  49. ^ "Toni Stone (Closed May 31, 2020) | Washington, DC | reviews, cast and info | TheaterMania". Retrieved 2020-09-06.
  50. ^ "Review: Compelling 'Toni Stone' now available on streaming". The Mercury News. 2020-03-17. Retrieved 2020-09-06.

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