Stone, Toni 1921–1996
Toni Stone 1921–1996
Professional baseball player
In 1953, Toni Stone not only became the first woman to play as a regular on a big-league professional baseball team, the Negro American League’s Indianapolis Clowns, but she also played one of the most difficult positions, second base. Although Stone’s professional baseball career was brief, her affiliation with the game spanned over fifty years.
Toni Stone was born Marcenia Lyle in 1921, one year after the creation of the Negro Leagues. She eventually adopted the name Toni Stone because she had been called “Tomboy” as a girl and “Toni” sounded like “Tomboy.” Stone remarked to Merlene Davis of the Lexington Herald-Leader, ”I loved my trousers, my jeans. I love cars. Most of all I loved to ride horses with no saddles. I wasn’t classified. People weren’t ready for me.” She told Erin Egan of Sports Illustrated for Kids that in the 1920s ’a girl going to play ball was a disgrace to society.” Despite the obstacles, Stone was determined to play baseball. At the age of ten, she played in a league sponsored by Wheaties cereal for youngsters who had collected enough box tops. She soon joined the Catholic Midget League, which was similar to today’s Little League. She eventually played with the Girls Highlex Softball Club in St. Paul, Minnesota and, at age fifteen, began playing with a semi-professional men’s team, the St. Paul Giants. Her mother, a beautician, and her father, a barber, couldn’t understand her interest in baseball, but supported her nonetheless.
Stone expressed interest in playing for the St. Paul Saints, a minor league team near her home, but was denied. Undaunted, she pressured the team’s manager, Gabby Street, until he gave her an opportunity to try out for the team. Street, a former major league catcher for the Washington Senators and a manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, was so impressed with Stone’s abilities that he bought her some spikes and invited her to his baseball camp.
Following her graduation from Roosevelt High School, Stone played with several semipro teams in St. Paul, and then went to live with her ailing sister, a military nurse stationed in Oakland, California during World War II. According to Barbara Gregorich, author of Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, ”Arriving with less than a dollar in her pocket, Lyle found herself a job, a place to live, and a baseball team-all before finding her sister.” Stone played centerfield for Al Love’s championship American Legion team. “In baseball,” Stone remarked, “I was accepted for who I was and what I could produce.” Stone soon moved to the San Francisco Sea Lions, one of the outstanding black barnstorming teams that traveled throughout the South. Stone batted .280 and won a spot on the Negro League’s All Star team. She could run one hundred yards in eleven seconds, which is extremely fast for a woman who was 5 feet 7 1/2 inches and 148 pounds. Because she did not get the amount of pay that had been
Born Marcenia Lyle, 1921, in St. Paul, MN; married Aurelious Alberga (Officer Reserves Corps), c. 1950; died of heart failure, November 10, 1996.Education: Roosevelt High School.
Played with several semipro teams in St. Paul, MN; played center field, San Francisco American Legion team; played second base, San Francisco Sea Lions, 1946; New Orleans Black Pelicans; New Orleans Creoles, 1949; Indianapolis Clowns, 1953; Kansas City Monrchs, 1954; retired from professional play in 1954.
Awards: Induction into Women’s Sports Foundation’s Intl. Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, 1985; honored, This Week In Baseball, 1990; “Toni Stone Day’ St. Paul, MN, 1990; Baseball Hall of Fame, 1991; Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, 1993; Sudafed Intl. Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, October 4, 1993.
promised her, Stone left the Sea Lions and joined the New Orleans Black Pelicans, a team on which legendary pitcher Satchel Paige had played twenty years earlier.
Every off-season, Stone returned to Oakland. She eventually married a man forty years older, Aurelious Alberga, a first lieutenant in the Officer Reserves Corps. Alberga didn’t want his wife to play baseball, but she continued to play anyway. In a 1991 interview with a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, Stone said some of her teammates taunted her, telling her to ’ ’go home and fix your husband some biscuits.”
In 1949, Stone played second base for $300 a month with the New Orleans Creoles, a minor league team. Gerald Early, a Professor of African and Afro-American Studies, wrote in Civilization, ”The Negro leagues existed, after all, because whites felt that blacks were inferior beings and incapable of playing on the same fields with them in day-to-day competition. Blacks could not help but see the Negro leagues, no matter how well the players played or how much they enjoyed the game, as a reminder that they were not equal to whites.” In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the “color barrier” and changed baseball forever. Six years later, the Negro League teams were in serious trouble because their best players had joined the newly integrated American and National Leagues. Syd Pollack, owner of the Indianapolis Clowns, hired Stone as a publicity stunt because, according to Robert M. Thomas Jr. of the New York Times Biographical Service, ”the Boston Braves had snatched away a teenage prospect named Hank Aaron” the year before in 1952. Stone told Pollack that she would play for the Clowns, but only if she was treated no differently than any other player. “I had to play,” she told Egan. By this time, Stone was a seasoned thirty-two year-old player. Buster Haywood, the Clowns’ manager, stated, “Now, in women’s baseball, she would be a top player. She knew the fundamentals.”
During her tenure with the Clowns, Stone recorded the only hit off legendary pitcher Satchel Paige. It was during an exhibition game in Omaha, Nebraska, on Easter Sunday, 1953. Earlier that day, Paige had smugly asked the Clowns whether they wanted him to pitch slow, medium, or fast. Stone replied, “Any way you like. Just don’t hit me.” Stone hit a fastball over Paige’s head into centerfield. “That was the finest thing to happen to me in my life,” she told Egan. Merlene Davis of the Lexington Herald-Leader reported Stone’s description of that play: “He threw that fastball and I didn’t go nowhere, just stood up there and hit it across second base. And I was so tickled to death I was laughing all the way to first base, and started to round first base and fell. Oooh, I looked clumsy. Didn’t look like no pro. ... I laughed like hell, and he [Paige] was laughing, too. ”
During the fifty games Stone played for the Clowns, she was able to maintain a .243 batting average even though she played mostly exhibition games or just a few innings in league play. According to Gai Berlage in Women In Baseball: The Forgotten History, ”The Clowns were a team with a long history of mixing showmanship and baseball. They were baseball’s Harlem Globetrotters.” During the winter of 1953, Stone was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. The Clowns replaced her with two women, Connie Morgan, an infielder, and Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, a pitcher. Because Stone did not get to play very much for the Monarchs, she retired at the end of the season. She moved back to Oakland, worked as a nurse, and took care of her husband until his death at age 103, in 1987. Despite her retirement from the Negro Leagues, Stone continued to play sandlot and pickup games with California American Legion teams until she was sixty-two.
Although the San Francisco Giants had asked Stone to throw out the first pitch of the season during a game in the 1960s, it has only been in recent years that she has been recognized for her contributions to baseball. In 1985, she was inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. Five years later, in 1990, Stone was honored on television’s This Week In Baseball. St. Paul, Minnesota, her hometown, proclaimed March 6, 1990 as ’ Toni Stone Day. “In 1991, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York paid homage to Stone and seventy-two male players from the Negro Leagues. She was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame on Long Island in 1993. On October 4, 1993, in the presence of Olympic medalists, National Collegiate Athletic Association stars, and sports broadcasters, Stone was inducted into the Sudafed International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, along with gymnast Mary Lou Retton. In 1996, Stone died of heart failure at a nursing home in Alameda, California.
Berlage, Gai, Women In Baseball: The Forgotten History, Praeger Publishers, 1994, pp. 126-129.
Hickok, Ralph, A Who’s Who of Sport Champions, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1995, pp. 756-757.
Riley, James A.,The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994, p. 746.
American Visions, June/July 1993, p. 27.
Jet, June 1, 1992, p. 50; December 2, 1996, p. 16.
Sports Illustrated for Kids, April, 1994, p. 26.
The New York Times Biographical Service, November 10, 1996, p. 1637.
Lexington Herald-Leader, 1996, “Female Baseball Player Got the Ball Rolling,” URL: http://www.kentuckyconnect.com/heraldleader/news/1128/fu4dav is.html.
Information was also obtained from a 1954 Indianapolis Clowns program provided by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc., 25 Main Street, P.O. Box 590, Cooperstown, NT 13326-0590.
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