A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
The Ladies of The Negro Leagues (Part 1)
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.
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.