BASN Focus On History:The Ladies of The Negro Leagues

By Tony McClean
Updated: October 25, 2004

NOTE: Continuing to focus on Black sports legends, our scene shifts back to the Negro Leagues. This time, we look at three special ladies who were are and still just as much a part of the Negro League experience as Satchel Paige or Josh Gibson. Today: we look back at the life and times of Toni Stone.

Toni Stone
Toni Stone

NEW HAVEN, CT.—She was given the name Marcenia Lyle Alberga. But all her friends and teammates knew simply as “T” or Toni Stone. Born on January 21, 1921 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Stone played baseball as a teenager with the local boys teams in her hometown.

During World War II she moved to San Francisco, playing first with an American Legion team, and then with the San Francisco Sea Lions, a black, semi-pro barnstorming team–she drove in two runs in her first at-bat.

She didn’t feel that the owner was paying her what they’d originally agreed on, so when the team played in New Orleans, she jumped ship and joined the Black Pelicans.

From there she went to the New Orleans Creoles, part of the Negro League minors, where she made $300 a month in 1949. The local press reported that she made several unassisted double plays, and batted .265.

Although the All American Girls Baseball League was active at the time, Toni Stone was not eligible to play.

The AAGBL (popularized by the movie “A League Of Their Own”) was a “whites only” league, so Toni played on otherwise all-male black teams.

In 1953, Syd Pollack, owner of the Indianapolis Clowns, signed Toni to play second base, a position that had been recently vacated when future Hall of Famer Hank Aaron was signed by the then Boston Braves.

Stone became the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues.

The Clowns had begun as a gimmick team, much like the Harlem Globetrotters, known as much for their showmanship as their playing. But by the ’50s they had toned down their antics and were playing straight baseball.

Having a woman on the team didn’t hurt revenues, which had been declining steadily since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the majors, and many young Black players left the Negro Leagues.

Stone recalled that most of the men shunned her and gave her a hard time because she was a woman. She reflected that, “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.”

In 1954, Pollack sold Toni’s contract to the Kansas City Monarchs, an all-star team that had won several pennants in the “Colored World Series,” and for whom Jackie Robinson and Paige had both played.

Stone played the ’54 season for the Monarchs, but she could read the handwriting on the wall. The Negro Leagues were coming to an end, so she retired at the end of the season. She compiled a .240 career batting average.

Ironically, Stone’s most memorable baseball moment came when she played against the legendary Paige a year earlier. “He was so good,” she remembered, “That he’d ask batters where they wanted it, just so they’d have a chance. He’d ask, ‘You want it high? You want it low? You want it right in the middle? Just say.’ People still couldn’t get a hit against him.”

“So I get up there and he says, ‘Hey, T, how do you like it?’ And 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.”

She was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1993. She is honored in two separate sections in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown; the “Women in Baseball” exhibit, and the Negro Leagues section.

Toni Stone died in 1996.

NOTE: The African-American Registry and The Science of Baseball contributed to this story.

Next – Part 2: Effa Manley, owner and activist.

Part 2

Today: Effa Manley, owner and activist.

“Babe Ruth made a baseball fan out of me. I used to go to Yankee Stadium just to see him come to bat. I didn’t know anything about the game, but little by little I caught on. My husband came from Camden, New Jersey, used to play, and he was a rabid fan. He came to New York for the World Series, and we met at the World Series.”

– Effa Manley

Effa Manley
Effa Manley

If you visit the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California, you’ll see the gravesite of Ms. Effa Manley. Her gravestone reads simply “She Loved Baseball.” Within the Black community, Manley, a native of Philadelphia, rarely discussed her heritage, and most people assumed she was a light-skinned Black.Young Effa was born on March 27, 1900 and raised in a household with a Black stepfather and Black half-siblings.

After graduation from high school in Philly, she moved to New York to work in the millinery business. She met Abe Manley, a man 24 years older than her, at the 1932 World Series at Yankee Stadium.

They married on June 15, 1935. Abe had money through a number of successful investments in real estate and in “the numbers racket”. Together, they started a Negro League team in Brooklyn, in 1935, naming the team the Eagles.

The Eagles played in Ebbets Field but were unable to compete with the Brooklyn Dodgers. To survive financially, the Manleys moved the Eagles to Newark and also bought the Newark Dodgers, a Black semi-pro team in 1936. Effa and Abe ran the Eagles from 1935-48.

Her influence extended beyond baseball. Ms. Manley was also active in the Black civil rights movement. She took over day-to-day business operations of the team, arranged playing schedules, planned the team’s travel, managed and met the payroll, bought the equipment, negotiated contracts, and handled publicity and promotions.

Thanks to her rallying efforts, more than 185 VIPs — including New York Mayor Fiorello LeGuardia, who threw out the first pitch, and Charles C. Lockwood, justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York — were on hand to watch the Eagles’ inaugural game in 1935.

Although many of the men in the sport resented her and complained loudly about her brashness, they also respected her.

Manley once said, “Abe took me to all the meetings, of course. The first one or two meetings they felt a little bit annoyed. One day it was Cum Posey of the Grays apologizing for using profane words at one of the meetings…Anyway, they finally opened up and were just wonderful to me.”

A LEADER FOR SOCIAL CHANGE As part of her work for the Citizen’s League for Fair Play, Manley organized a 1934 boycott of a Harlem stores that refused to hire Black salesclerks. Whites owned most of the large retail stores along the heart of the commercial area. Manley walked in the picket lines and negotiated for the hiring of blacks for more than just menial jobs, such as janitorial work. After six weeks, the owners of the stores gave in and a year later all 300 stores on 125th Street employed Blacks.

The Manleys lived in Sugar Hill, an upper-class section of Harlem that included such neighbors as W.E.B. DuBois, Roy Wilkins, Walter White, and Thurgood Marshall. Her service included work on the Children’s Day Camp Committee.

In 1936, as an officer on the Edgecombe Sanitarium Renaissance Committee, she led a group to save the mortgage of Edgecombe Sanitarium in Harlem.

Manley was also the treasurer of the Newark chapter of the NAACP and often used Eagles games to promote civic causes. In 1939, Manley held an “Anti-Lynching Day” at Ruppert Stadium. Several stories about her have become part of Negro League folklore.

One such tale is that she provided the Eagles with an air-conditioned, $15,000 flexible clipper bus, a first for the Negro Leagues in 1946.

Worried about what her players would do for employment during the off-season, she and Abe sponsored a team in the Puerto Rican winter leagues. She and Abe served as godparents to Larry Doby’s first child. They loaned Monte Irvin money for a down payment on his first house.

During World War II, Negro Leagues attendance reached all-time highs. By the end of the war, the leagues were a $2 million enterprise and represented one of the largest Black-dominated businesses in the U.S. After the war, integration of Major League baseball became a hot-button issue.

The color line was broken in 1946 when Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to play for Montreal, the Dodgers’ Triple-A International League team. That year was a watershed one for Manley and the Eagles, too.

Newark beat the Kansas City Monarchs in a thrilling, 7-game Negro League World Series. When Robinson broke into the majors, integration took its toll on the Negro Leagues. Attendance at Eagles games plummeted, from 120,000 in 1946 to 57,000 in 1948, and Newark, like many other Negro League teams were unable to generate profits.

After Rickey successfully recruited pitcher Don Newcombe away from Newark and convinced him to join the Dodgers, Manley took action. She wrote letters to Rickey asking him to meet with her. Rickey did not respond, but Manley continued to fight for just compensation and speak out against the raiding of Negro League teams without reparation.

Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck called Manley in 1947, inquiring about Larry Doby. They agreed to a deal that ultimately paid the Manleys $15,000 in exchange for Doby, who became the first Black player in the American League.

The deal established a precedent and Major League owners from then on paid an average of $5,000 for each Negro Leaguer they signed. The Eagles folded in 1948, and several other teams in the Negro National League would follow suit.

Throughout her years in the business, Manley kept a baseball scrapbook. This is now part of the collection at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Until her death in April 1981 at the age of 81, Manley devoted herself to keeping the history of Negro League baseball alive.

In 1976, Manley published “Negro Baseball … before Integration,” which listed 73 players she felt were qualified for the Hall of Fame. She wrote numerous letters to the Baseball Hall of Fame and publications such as The Sporting News, urging recognition for the league and its players.

The Hall of Fame enshrined 11 players from the Negro Leaguers in 1973. And in 1985, the Hall of Fame added an exhibit on Black baseball. Her photo is prominently displayed in the exhibit.

In these times of “Spider Man” ads and pop-up TV commercials, Effa Manley’s simple dedication on and off the field to the sport of baseball is just another proud chapter in the heritage of black sports history.

NOTE: The African-American Registry and The Baseball Library contributed to this story.

Part 3: Pitcher Mamie Johnson

Mamie "Peanut" Johnson
Mamie “Peanut” Johnson

The final chapter in our salute to the ladies of the Negro Leagues focuses on a pitcher who originally attempted to play in the all-white Women’s Professional Baseball League, but was turned down because of her race.

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson tried to become a member of the WPBL, the brainwave for the movie “A League of Their Own.” But she was denied entry.

“I’m glad they turned me down,” Johnson said. “Otherwise, I would have just been another woman who played women’s baseball.”

“I got to meet and be with some of the best baseball players that ever picked up a bat, so I’m very proud about that.”

Born on September 27, 1935 in Ridgeway, South Carolina, Johnson played with the Alexandria All-Stars, St. Cyprians and other semi-pro baseball teams around the Washington, D.C.

In 1953, she became a member of the Indianapolis Clowns at the age of 19. That season, Johnson finished with an 11-3 record. The next year, she went 10-1 and in 1955, she finished 12-4.

Johnson hit between .252 and .284 in those three seasons. When “Peanut” wasn’t pitching, she played second base.

For two seasons as a member of the Clowns, Johnson was a teammate of future home run leader Hank Aaron.

She also credits her pitching success with a lesson she learned from another Hall of Famer, Satchel Paige, who taught Johnson to throw her curve ball.

Johnson added, “Satchel just showed me how to grip the ball to keep from throwing my arm away, ‘cause I was so little.” Her career as the Negro League’s first female pitcher was recounted in a new book released last year entitled, A Strong Right Arm by Michelle Y. Green.

When asked on an NPR radio show about she got along with her teammates, Johnson said, ” I met some of the nicest gentlemen I could ever meet and I got the highest respect in the world from all of them.”

But, she added, “You’ve got your gentlemen, and then you’ve got your men. Some of the “men” don’t know how to act, but after you prove yourself as to what you came there for, then you don’t have any problem out of them, either.”

“After you strike three or four of them out and, you know, it’s alright.”

While Johnson had much success on the field (a career mark of 33-8 in three seasons), she was quick to credit her teammates for her achievements.

Playing major league baseball was a “beautiful” experience, she says. “When you learn to do something and do it well, you begin to enjoy it.”

Currently, Ms. Johnson works at the Negro Leagues Baseball Shops in Bowie, Maryland. The store specializes in hats, memorabilia and clothes honoring Negro League stars.

NOTE: The African-American Registry, National Public Radio, and the Negro League Baseball Players Association contributed to this story.