Toni Stone: The first woman to play in the Negro Leagues

Major League Baseball has yet to see its first woman player, but the Negro Leagues were ahead of the times in this regard.  Three women played professional baseball in the Negro Baseball Leagues, the first of whom was one Toni “Tomboy” Stone.

Toni Stone (Biography.com)

Toni Stone (Biography.com)

Born Marcenia Lyle on July 17, 1921, in St. Paul, Minnesota, Toni Stone signed to play second base for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953.  It was a path that went against the hopes and dreams that Stone’s parents had for her and her siblings.  From a young age, Toni Stone loved competition, and she excelled at a variety of sports as she grew up, including baseball, track, and ice skating.  Her parents, who would have preferred that she focus more of her attention on her schoolwork, went so far as to set up a meeting for her with the local priest to try to talk her out of baseball, but by the end of that meeting, the priest had invited her to join his team in the Catholic Midget League.

By the age of fifteen, Stone had joined the Twin City Colored Giants, a traveling men’s baseball team.  In the 1940s, however, she moved to San Francisco to help a sick sister, taking a brief hiatus from baseball.  But then in 1949, she joined the San Francisco Sea Lions of the West Coast Negro Baseball League.  In her first plate appearance with the Sea Lions, Stone earned two RBIs.

Being a black woman playing on a men’s team in Jim Crow America, Stone’s experiences playing ball weren’t always fun, of course.  She often dealt with a barrage of jeers and insults from fans and players alike.  Stone was quite proud of the fact that the male players were out to get her, however, wearing it as a sort of badge of honor.  At one point, she said, “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.”  As a woman, Stone was not allowed into the men’s locker room, but if she was lucky, she was sometimes permitted to change in the umpires’ locker room.  In spite of the hardships, she took advantage of the exposure that she gained playing with the Sea Lions, and in 1953, the Indianapolis Clowns signed Toni Stone to its roster.

Stone appeared in 50 games that year.  She hit .243, including getting a hit off the legendary pitcher, Satchel Paige.  She also had the opportunity to play with the likes of Willie Mays and Ernie Banks.  Stone’s time with the Clowns did not last, however, and in the off-season, she was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs.  She retired at the end of her season with the Monarchs, however, due to age and a lack of playing time.  Stone had compiled a .240 career batting average.

In 1985 Stone was inducted into the Women’s Sports Foundation’s International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. Then, in 1993, Stone was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and into the Sudafed International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.  Toni Stone died of heart failure in 1996.

Middlebury Magazine

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8 Comments on “Toni Stone: The first woman to play in the Negro Leagues”

  1. verdun2 says:

    Great thing about being around here is that I always learn something new. Thanks.
    v

  2. Steve Myers says:

    I guess that “tomboy” handle was as common as “chief” in the way it was dumped on all native americans. If a girl picked up a baseball she became a tomboy. From the picture I figured she was a pitcher, that look on her face and wind up has the feel of ‘ready or not here i come,’ but a .243 average ain’t bad or it’s not often that we hear stats among Negro League players? I really enjoyed your write up and like v, had never heard of Marcenia Lyle “Toni Stone.”

    • I got the impression that she was proud of the “tomboy” title. She does look like a pitcher, doesn’t she? I wonder what she could’ve accomplished if she had made it into the Negro Leagues at a younger age.

  3. Gene says:

    Excellent story. I’d never heard of her before and will definitely have to spread the word!

  4. There’s a great book about her … “Curveball” by Martha Ackmann. I had read it some time ago but was paging through it recently and discovered that the editor of the book is now one of my Yoga students! I brought it to class and said, “Why did you not tell me you did this book?” We decided then and there that EVERYONE has a baseball story to tell, even the editors who come to Yoga classes! 🙂


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