Leaguer of the Month
Leaguer of the Month
Marcenia "Toni" Stone
HT: 5'-7"; Wt: 145 lbs
Batted and threw: right
Position: Second Base
Born: July 17, 1921
Died: November 2, 1996 (at age
Teams: Twin Cities Colored Giants, New Orleans Creole, San Francisco Sea Lions, Indianapolis Clowns, Kansas City Monarchs
Toni Stone was one of only a handful of women to play in the Negro Leagues (Mamie Johnson, Connie Morgan, Fabiola Wilson and Gloria Dymond being the others), and was definitely the most talented and prominent.
True, Stone only played in the Negro Leagues because scores of the most talented black players were bypassing the Negro Leagues to play in the Major and Minor Leagues, and several teams thought Stone would help bring in larger crowds--she did! However, Stone was a very talented baseball player, just not up to the standards that the Negro Leagues had set over the years.
Stone grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and always competed in sports with boys. Stone could run the hundred yard dash in 11 seconds flat, and was tough as nails.
At age 15, Stone, who had been a star in girls softball, gave up the game and started playing baseball with boys. That year, Stone attended a baseball camp at Lexington Park, home of the American Association's St. Paul Saints, which was run by former Major Leaguer Gabby Street. Street told Stone that the camp was for boys only, but Stone wouldn't leave, and Street ended up allowing her to stay, and she impressed! Street advised her to continue to play baseball, and she did!
In 1937, Stone played part time with the Twin Cities Colored Giants, a top black semipro team, and teammate Harry Davis remembered, "She was as good as most of the men. She could throw just like a man!"
During the War, Stone wanted to try out for the All American Girls Professional League, but that league was segregated just like the Majors, so she instead played with the Wall Post #435 American Legion team in the Twin Cities. Had she been allowed to play in the AAGPL, Stone would more than likely have been one of its best players.
After the War, Stone's family moved to the Bay Area, and Stone played with the San Francisco Sea Lions, a Minor League Negro Team that produced Major Leaguer Bill Bruton. Stone batted around .280 with the Sea Lions.
On December 23, 1950, Stone married a man named Aurelious Alberga, who was born in 1885 and lived until 1988, and was one of the first black officers in the U.S. Army after the Civil War, serving as a First Lieutenant in World War I. Alberga had been raised in San Francisco, and narrowly survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that detroyed 80% of the city. Alberga asked Stone to quit baseball in '51 and spend more time at home, as most women of the day did, but Stone loved baseball and Alberga realized he couldn't keep her away from her passion, and she was back on the field in '52.
The couple lived in the Bay Area, and Stone stayed in the Oakland area when her husband died.
From '48-'52, Stone played for the New Orleans Creole (except in '51), and each season they played against the Indianapolis Clowns; Stone was impressive enough in these games that Clowns' business manager agreed to recommend her to team owner Syd Pollock who signed her the next season.
The Clowns reported that Stone was to be paid $15,000 a year, much more than many Major Leaguers, but in reality she made between $300 and $400 a month. She was also advertised as having graduated from college, but admitted in an interview with me that she never attended college at all.
Stone joined the Clowns in 1953, a year after Hank Aaron was their star shortstop, and she played the first three innings of each game at second base; superstar second baseman, Ray Neil, begrudgingly played left field those three innings, knowing that Stone was bringing in big crowds, which in turn made everyone money.
In Stone's first game, against the Norfolk Palms, Stone walked in her first plate appearance, and singled home two runs in her second. A week later, against Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Stone walked, singled, drove in two and scored two runs. Against the Norfolk Royals, she drove in two runs, scored three runs and handled five chances without an error, and in a game against the Kansas City Monarchs she singled for the Clowns' only hit!
In general, though, Stone struggled at the plate, batting in the low-.200s, and her fielding was below average for the Negro Leagues. Stone did, however, argue like a Big Leaguer! On close plays she would bark at umpires, and if she struck out or made an error she could swear a blue streak!
For the '53 season, according to statistics produced by the Clowns (possibly inflated for P.R. purposes), Stone batted .243 with one extra base hit, and fielded at an .852 clip. Teammate "Woody" Smallwood said that Stone "was a good player, but not up to Negro League standards." According to a San Francisco Chronicle interview, Stone was often told to "go home and fix your husband some biscuits."
In 1954, Stone played with the Kansas City Monarchs, and she helped draw fans when they were hard to come by.
Stone, like many players before her, named getting a hit off Satchel Paige as her biggest thrill in baseball.
Stone was elected to the Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 1993, and there is a baseball field in St. Paul named after Stone, though her first name was misspelled as "Tony!".
Stone, it was often said, had two strikes against her as a ballplayer in the United State: she was black and a woman. But, Stone made the best of things even though she often ate alone in the team bus and knew that many of her teammates resented her. Stone always took the high road, though, and remembered years later, "Some of 'em used to give me a hard time, but I didn't pay them no mind. They didn't mean any harm!"
*Some information from "Barnstorming to Heaven" by Allen Pollock
and "Curveball: the Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, the First Woman to Play Baseball in the Negro Leagues" by Martha Ackmann.
(Library of Congress)