Stone, Toni (1921–1996)
Stone, Toni (1921–1996)
African-American baseball player who was the first woman to play as a regular on a big-league professional team. Name variations: Marcenia Lyle Alberga. Born Marcenia Lyle in 1921; died on November 2, 1996, in Alameda, California; married Aurelious Alberga (an Army officer), in 1950 (died 1988); no children.
In 1953, when Toni Stone was recruited by Syd Pollack to play second base in the Negro American League, thus becoming the first woman to play on a big-league professional team, she was already a veteran player. At 32, the 5'7", 148-pounder was also accustomed to playing with men, having done so for years in the minor leagues, first with the barnstorming San Francisco Sea Lions and later with the New Orleans Creoles.
Characterizing herself as a roughneck and a "big sassy girl," Stone was one of four children of a barber and a beautician who moved from the South to St. Paul, Minnesota. She was attracted to baseball at an early age, although no one in her family could understand why; Stone was considered something of an outcast in her early days. As a child, she played hooky to hang around the St. Louis baseball school run by Gabby Street, a former big-league catcher. Ignoring her at first, Street finally gave in and let Stone play. He was so impressed with her natural ability that he bought her a pair of cleats and let her join the school.
During World War II, Stone went to live with her sister in San Francisco, where she played briefly with Al Love's championship American Legion team before winning a position on the semipro San Francisco Sea Lions, a team of black barnstormers. When she began to sense that she was not being used to her full potential, she jumped to the New Orleans Black Pelicans, then in 1949 to the New Orleans Creoles, who offered her $300 a month, her best deal to date. Stone played second base, distinguishing herself with "quite a few double plays unassisted." During her last year with the Creoles, she batted .265.
When Syd Pollack signed Stone in 1953, the Negro Leagues were already in decline. (After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, other major league franchises began signing the best black players, signaling doom for the black leagues.) Although the Indianapolis Clowns (originally the Ethiopian Clowns of Miami) built their reputation on gimmicks, they were decidedly toned down by the time they moved to Indianapolis in 1939 and joined the Negro American League. Still, there were those who questioned Pollack's motives in signing Stone. (Early on, Pollack asked her to play in shorts, which she refused to do, telling him outright that she would quit baseball first.) Buster Howard, her manager on the Clowns, was one who believed that Stone was recruited mostly for show. "She did pretty good, but she couldn't compete with the men to save her life. Now, in women's baseball, she would be a top player. She knew the fundamentals." Stone remembered a good deal of sexism from her teammates. "They didn't mean any harm and in their way they liked me. Just that I wasn't supposed to be there. They'd tell me to go home and fix my husband some biscuits, or any damn thing. Just get the hell away from here."
One of Stone's fondest memories was playing against Satchel Paige in Omaha in 1953. He was so good that nobody could get a hit against him, she remembered. "I get up there and he says, 'Hey, T, how do you like it?' I said, 'It doesn't matter. Just don't hurt me.' When he wound up—he had these big old feet—all you could see was his shoe. I stood there shaking, but I got a hit. Right out over second base. Happiest moment in my life."
In 1954, Pollack sold Stone's contract to the Kansas City Monarchs, which had always been a serious team. After the first season, Stone felt she was once again being overlooked, and decided to leave baseball. She returned to Oakland where she worked as a nurse. Her husband Aurelious Alberga, whom she had married in 1953, was no doubt glad to have her quit the game, as he never approved of her playing baseball in the first place. "He would have stopped me if he could," said Stone.
Following Alberga's death in 1988, Stone remained in Oakland, living in the house the couple had bought when they were first married; she had continued to play recreational baseball until she was 60. In 1985, she was inducted into the Women's Sports Foundation's International Women's Sports Hall of Fame, and in 1991, the Baseball Hall of Fame honored her and other players of the Negro Leagues in a special ceremony. Stone died of heart failure on November 2, 1996, age 75.
Gregorich, Barbara. Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. NY: Harcourt Brace, 1993.
"Obituary," in The Day [New London, CT]. November 10, 1996.
Thomas, Robert McG., Jr. "Toni Stone, 75, First Woman to Play Big-League Baseball," in The New York Times Biographical Service. November 1996, p. 1637.
Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts