Marcenia Lyle Stone was born July 17, 1921, in West Virginia. Her family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota when she was 10 years old. Stone was talented in many sports and loved playing baseball with the boys in her neighborhood.
She also possessed her own since of style preferring pants over skirts for dress. All this earned her the nickname “Tomboy.”
Toni Stone Game ActionNegro Leagues Baseball Museum
Her devout Catholic parents worried about her development and love of baseball, as only men and boys played the game. However, their priest saw her athletic potential and encouraged her to sign up for the local Catholic league youth team.
The coaches were not welcoming, so she turned to softball and studying baseball on her own. She finally found mentoring from Gabby Street, former Major League player turned manager for the St. Paul Saints baseball team. He reluctantly helped her at the start, but grew to appreciate her talent.
Toni Stone PregameNegro Leagues Baseball Museum
She was 16 years old when she began to play semi-professional baseball for local African American teams. She dropped out of school to play more baseball, but eventually moved to San Francisco to live with her sister in 1943.
She decided the name “Toni” worked better for her. She scuffled to play baseball and work at a tavern, then met military veteran Aurelious Alberga and began a relationship. They were married in 1950 and he encouraged her pursuit of baseball.
Toni Stone from the Pollock CollectionNegro Leagues Baseball Museum
In 1949, she joined the San Francisco Sea Lions, a traveling black baseball team. She had modest success there, but soon wanted to move on. Stone later joined the New Orleans Creoles from 1949-1952.
Finding baseball work was difficult. She embellished her age, subtracting 10 years, to meet the age limit requirements of San Francisco area American Legion baseball teams.
Toni Stone Photo PostcardNegro Leagues Baseball Museum
She would eventually get a contract with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues in 1953 to play second base. She replaced Henry Aaron, who was recruited to the Major Leagues. The Clowns included vaudeville-like comedy routines along with their baseball play.
She was the first woman to play professionally in the Negro Leagues. Stone enjoyed the competition of baseball but had to endure the segregation imposed on African Americans in that time. She also had to endure sexism and disdain from male players, including teammates, who did not always appreciate having a female player on the field.
Her contract was sold to the Kansas City Monarchs for 1954. By this time, two more female players were added to the Clowns rosters, infielder Connie Morgan and pitcher Mamie “Peanut” Johnson.
Toni Stone Game PosterNegro Leagues Baseball Museum
Stone’s unique story had been unknown to most baseball fans except for those of Negro Leagues Baseball. She has been honored by the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame as well as special tributes in Minnesota and California.
Stone, Toni (2019-03-19) by Negro Leagues Baseball MuseumNegro Leagues Baseball Museum
Recently, her life story was chronicled in the biography Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, the First Woman to Play Professional Baseball in the Negro League by Martha Ackmann (2010). The book became the basis of an acclaimed off-Broadway play Toni Stone (2019).