Toni Stone broke down gender barriers in the 1950s as one of the first women in men’s professional baseball when she played in Negro Leagues. While white women were playing in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a women-only league highlighted in the 1992 movie A League of their Own, she was playing on previously all-male teams such as the Indianapolis Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs.
Stone’s achievement is spotlighted in an animated Google Doodle on Wednesday marking, an annual celebration when Americans take time to recognize and honor the achievements of Black Americans and their central role in shaping American society and history.
Born in 1921, Marcenia Lyle “Toni” Stone learned to play baseball with boys on the city playgrounds of St. Paul, Minnesota, in the 1930s and ’40s. Her interest in baseball and preference for wearing pants instead of skirts earned her the nickname “Tomboy.”
When Stone was 16, she began playing weekend games with semipro barnstorming teams and eventually dropped out of high school to play baseball full time. She moved to San Francisco in 1943 to live with her sister and was soon playing for the local American Legion Baseball team.
She began her professional career in the mid-’40s playing San Francisco Sea Lions of the West Coast Negro Baseball League but grew disenchanted with the team after learning she was paid less than her male teammates. In 1949, Stone joined the New Orleans Creoles as a second baseman before signing with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953 to place second, replacing Hank Aaron, who had recently begun his Hall of Fame career with the Milwaukee Braves.
She was, in the words of Aaron, “a very good baseball player.”
Despite hitting .243 while with the Clowns, Stone was often shunned by her teammates, once being told, “Go home and fix your husband some biscuits.”
But Stone, who had idolized the Clowns, was undeterred.
“A woman has her dreams, too,” Stone once confided to a teammate. “When you finish high school, they tell a boy to go out and see the world. What do they tell a girl? They tell her to go next door and marry the boy that her family picked for her. A woman can do many things.”
She would play 50 games with the Clowns, reportedly getting a hit off legendary Negro Leagues pitcher Satchel Paige before being traded to the Kansas City Monarchs in 1954. Stone would retire after the 1954 season due to a lack of playing time and moved to Oakland, California, to work as a nurse and care for her ailing husband until his death in 1987 at the age of 103.
In 1990, Stone was honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in exhibits on Women in Baseball and Negro League Baseball. Three years later, she was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. Her life is the subject of the play Tomboy Stone.
Stone died in 1996 at the age of 75.