Fitness Firsts: Toni Stone, The First Woman To Play In The Negro Leagues
For Women’s History month, we are excited to take the time out to celebrate the trailblazing accomplishments of Black women in sports. Without them, doors wouldn’t have been opened to allow some of the greatest names in all of sports, woman and man alike, to compete and make their mark.
Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you should know get to know Toni Stone.
Born Marcenia Lyle Stone in 1921, the St. Paul, Minnesota native would end up becoming the first woman (and the first of only three) to get to play professionally for the Negro Leagues. But per the usual, being the first to do anything can be incredibly hard. Despite being able to hold her own with the men on the baseball diamond, she was often spoken to poorly by fans, treated badly by her male teammates, and would have to fuss to sometimes get paid what she was due. But that didn’t stop Toni “Tomboy” Stone from making her mark and eventually being recognized for it. Check out five things you should know about this groundbreaking woman.
Her parents tried to stage an intervention to stop her from playing baseball.
One of four children, Toni’s parents were very big on making education the most important thing in their household. But for her, even at just the age of 10, sports were her priority. She was good at all kinds, including track and ice skating, but baseball was her favorite. She spent hours playing, and that alarmed her parents. Therefore, they tried to stage an intervention of sorts with the help of a priest named Father Keith. After speaking with her though, he ended up encouraging her to take her talents to his Catholic Midget League, which we now call Little League.
In 1949 she signed with her first Negro League team, the San Francisco Lions.
As she got older, Toni had the chance to play for different clubs and leagues before she moved out west and was signed to the San Francisco Sea Lions in 1949. They were part of the West Coast Negro Baseball League. And while the pay was pretty good and she gained some exposure, she wasn’t treated that well by teammates, fans, or the owner because she was a woman. The latter, at times, wouldn’t give her the pay he owed her.
She held her own while playing with, and against, some of baseball’s legends.
Toni received her biggest opportunity when she was eventually signed in 1953 to the Indianapolis Clowns. She played with some legends of the game during that time, including Willie Mays, Satchel Paige and Ernie Banks. She also did well, appearing in 50 games in that year. But her time with the team ended when during the off-season, she was quickly traded to the Kansas City Monarchs. After the 1954 season, she retired due to a lack of playing time and a lot of resentment from her teammates and team bosses.
The sexism was very real.
As previously mentioned, it wasn’t easy being the first woman to strut her stuff in the Negro Leagues. She was given a hard time and even purposely hurt. In one incident, while on second base, a player trying to reach her base and get her out of his way slid with his spikes up and cut her wrist. But she took it as a compliment that they were so intimidated. But one thing that wasn’t a compliment was being asked to wear a skirt while all the rest of her teammates wore pants. She refused.
When her baseball career ended, she became a nurse.
After her retirement, Stone worked as a nurse and focused on building a life with her husband, Aurelious Alberga (who was the first Black officer to serve in the Army), in Oakland. She would eventually be honored for her contributions to the sport of baseball. In 1993, she was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. She passed away in 1996 of heart and respiratory issues at the age of 75.