Marcenia Lyle (Toni "Tomboy") Stone broke both gender and racial barriers by becoming the first female professional baseball player in the Negro Major League. During her career, she played with a variety of men's teams before making history when she joined the Indianapolis Clowns, a Negro Major League Team.
Toni Stone was born Marcenia Lyle Stone on July 17, 1921, in Bluefield, West Virginia. When she was ten years old, her family moved to St. Paul. Her parents, Boykin and Willa Maynard Stone, raised Marcenia in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood.
Stone grew up playing baseball with the neighborhood boys, despite her parents' objections, and earned the nickname "Tomboy." Encouraged by her priest, she was the first girl to hold a spot on the St. Peter Claver Catholic Church boys' baseball team in the Catholic boys' league.
Stone got her first real break when she joined the Twin City Colored Giants "barnstorming" team at age sixteen. She travelled around the Midwest and Canada with the team until she moved to California following the onset of World War II to be near her sister. She worked odd jobs and settled into the Fillmore neighborhood of San Francisco—sometimes called “the Harlem of the West.” While living there, Stone adopted a new professional name, "Toni Stone." She met her future husband, Aurelious Pescia Alberga, at a nightclub, and the couple was married in 1950.
At Alberga's suggestion, Stone applied to play American Legion baseball. To get around the Legion's age restriction, which required players to be no older than seventeen, she shaved ten years off her actual age and maintained the ruse throughout her career. She played a short stint with the San Francisco Sea Lions of the West Coast Negro League before joining the New Orleans Creoles, a Negro Minor League team, in 1949.
Toni Stone made sports history in 1953 when she signed a seasonal contract with the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro American League. She was hired to fill the second-base position vacated by Hank Aaron when he joined the Milwaukee Braves.
As one of the first women to play in the Negro Major League, Stone endured substantial harassment from opponents, critics, and fellow teammates. With the rise of integrated baseball, Negro League baseball began to wane. Though Stone’s skills improved the team, its managers hired her as a strategy to sell tickets. When the team's owner suggested that she wear a skirt, however, Stone refused. Serious about her sport, she insisted on wearing the official uniform.
In an attempt to make the Indianapolis Clowns more marketable, publicists for the team fabricated a biography for Stone. They claimed that she had attended Macalester College when in fact she had never graduated from high school. They reported her seasonal salary at $12,000 when, by her own admission, she was paid about $400 per month. There is some evidence that the team's management inflated her statistics to sustain the public's interest. It is widely accepted, however, that she achieved a batting average of .364—the fourth highest in the league for 1953. Regardless of the hype, Stone proved herself to be a true athlete.
She spent just one season with the Indianapolis Clowns. Her favorite memory with the team was getting a hit off legendary pitcher Satchel Paige during an exhibition game. The following season, Stone played with the Kansas City Monarchs. Feeling exploited, and dissatisfied with how little time she was allowed to spend on the field, she quit and returned to California. She continued to coach and play semi-professional ball well into her sixties.
Stone's contributions to baseball were largely forgotten until later in her life. She is remembered in the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. The city of St. Paul declared March 6, 1990, as “Toni Stone Day," and later named a neighborhood ball park "Toni Stone Field." She was honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 and was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1993. In 1997, the Great American History Theatre in St. Paul commemorated her story in a world premiere production, Tomboy Stone.
Toni Stone died on November 2, 1996, in Alameda, California.
Ackmann, Martha. Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, The First Woman to Play Professional Baseball in the Negro League. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2010.
Gregorich, Barbara. Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, & Co., 1993.
Grow, Doug. "League of Her Own: Tomboy Stone Dead at Age 75." Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 5, 1996.
——— . "She Wasn't Afraid to Swing for the Fences." Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 6, 1990.
"Lady Ball Player, Toni Stone is First of Sex to Play with Professional Team." Ebony, July 1953.
"Marcenia Lyle Alberga in the California Death Index, 1940-1997." Ancestry.com. California, Death Index, 1940–1997. Provo, UT, USA: ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2000.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Toni Stone.
Thomas, Robert McG., Jr. "Toni Stone, 75, First Woman To Play Big-League Baseball." New York Times, November 10, 1996.
Thornley, Stew. Baseball in Minnesota, the Definitive History. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2006.
"You Can't Play Wearing a Skirt." Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 6, 1993.
In 1937, Toni Stone receives her first big break in professional baseball when she signs with the Twin City Colored Giants baseball team.
Marcenia Lyle Stone is born in Bluefield, West Virginia.
The Stone family moves to Minnesota.
Stone plays with the HiLex girls' softball team, the St. Peter Claver Catholic Church boys' baseball team, and a St. Paul Men's Meat Packing League baseball team.
She convinces Gabby Street, the former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and manager of the minor league St. Paul Saints team, to let her try out for his baseball school. She impresses him with her ability and is admitted.
Stone begins to shag balls for the Twin City Colored Giants barnstorming team and is eventually invited to play with them.
Stone follows her sister Bernous ("Bunny") to San Francisco, California, and adopts the player name "Toni Stone."
Falsifying her age, Stone begins to play on an interracial American Legion team. She later joins the San Francisco Sea Lions, an integrated barnstorming team of semi-professional players, for three months.
Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier in major league baseball when he joins the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Stone signs with the New Orleans Creoles in the Negro Minor League, where she plays infield for a salary of $300 per month.
Negro League baseball begins to wane as more black players sign with white major- and minor-league teams.
Stone signs a contract with the Indianapolis Clowns, a Negro American League team, becoming the first woman to play with a Negro Major League team. She plays second base, replacing Hank Aaron after he moves on to the Boston (later Milwaukee) Braves.
When the Clowns sign two young women players and cut Stone's salary and playing time, she decides to sign with the Kansas City Monarchs for $400 per month. Feeling exploited, she quits at the end of the season and returns to Oakland, California.
Stone is one of seventy-three Negro League players honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame.
She is inducted into the Women's Sports Hall of Fame.
Stone dies on November 2 in a nursing home in Alameda, California, at the age of seventy-five.