Minnesota Superstar Toni Stone Broke BB Records and Barriers

The name and fame of Twin Cities native Toni Stone are well documented in the annals of baseball history. She is an honored member of the Women’s Sports Foundation’s International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and of the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Sudafed International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. In fact, St. Paul celebrated “Toni Stone Day” on March 6, 1990, and even named a field after the hometown heroine. The Toni Stone field is part of the Dunning Sports Complex in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood. (http://www.stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=1187)

One wonders, though, if, in this post-Title IX era, young girls in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul or students at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, know the story of this baseball superstar who broke records and shattered barriers for women and girls in sports.

Marcenia Lyle (Toni) Stone was born July 17, 1921, in West Virginia. A decade later she and her family joined the Great Migration to the North. They moved to St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood where Marcenia’s parents opened a small business. Even as a young girl Marcenia showed her talent as a natural athlete. She was the first girl to hold a spot on the high-powered St. Peter Claver boys’ baseball team and played for the girls’ Highlex Softball Club in St. Paul. Later, as a student at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, she lettered in track, high jump and softball.

At age 15 fell in love with baseball when she attended a baseball camp at Lexington Park, home of the St Paul Saints. When former Major Leaguer Gabby Street who ran the camp told Toni that the camp was for only boys, Stone protested and Street finally allowed her to stay. She so impressed Street that he advised her to continue to play the game. In short order she gave up her other athletic interests to focus on her first love – baseball.

Marcenia dropped out of school at 16 to earn money playing for the Twin City Colored Giants, a men’s semi-pro barnstorming team that took her throughout the Midwest and Canada. She moved on from there to play with Al Love’s American Legion championship team.

World War II upset the world order; baseball was no longer a national priority. Marcenia moved to San Francisco where her sister Bunny and her husband had resettled to join the military. Toni settled in the Fillmore neighborhood of San Francisco where she eventually met her future husband, Aurelious Pescia Alaberga, a man forty years her elder. Alaberga had been raised in San Francisco, one of the first black officers in the U.S. Army after the Civil War.

With some reluctance, perhaps, Alaberga encouraged his wife to join the previously all-male American Legion Junior League baseball team. It was at that point that Marcenia shaved a decade from age, claiming to be 16 not 26, a birth date she maintained throughout her career. It was also at this point that Marcenia became Toni Stone.

For a short time Toni played with the San Francisco Sea Lions of the West Coast Negro League, the league founded by African-American pitcher, Andrew “Rube” Foster. She left the team when she failed to receive the pay she had been promised. Toni moved on to the Black Pelicans. Not long thereafter the League itself faced a crisis when Jackie Robinson broke the color line by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946. Black fans lost interest in the Negro League, which were soon faced with diminished crowds and financial woes.

At the same time, as Black players moved to the Major Leagues, there were opportunities for unique players, including women. In 1949 Toni joined the New Orleans Creoles, the Negro League’s minor league team.   In 1953 she became the first woman to play in the Negro Major Leagues when she joined the Indianapolis Clowns, replacing 2nd baseman Hank Aaron who had moved up to join the Milwaukee Braves. To some extent, Toni was signed because she was a woman, thus a rarity and an “attraction.”

From all accounts players with the Negro Major Leagues led a rough life. To up the gate they were forced to play long seasons, many in the South where Jim Crow was still the law of the land. Trailblazer that she was, Toni met with opposition and outright scorn. By some accounts, she was proud of the fact “that the male players were out to get her. She would show off the scars on her left wrist and remember the time she had been spiked by a runner trying to take out the woman standing on second base….Even though she was part of the team, she was not allowed in the locker room. If she were lucky, she would be allowed to change in the umpire’s locker room. Once, Stone was asked to wear a skirt while laying for sex appear, but she would not do it.” (Wikipedia)

Still she was a contributor to the team with a lifetime batting average of .243, including a hit off Satchel Paige.  She played one season with the Clowns, and then moved in 1954 to the Kansas City Monarchs; she retired from the Monarchs the following season because of lack of playing time.

After her short career Toni returned to Oakland to care for her ailing husband who died in in 1987 at the age of 103. Toni settled in Alameda where she continued to play semi-pro ball well into her 60’s. She died in 1996 at the age of 75. In October 2000 Toni Stone was honored as the Negro Leaguer of the Month (Pitch Black Baseball), which notes that, although Toni had two strikes against her – she was black and a woman. Still, “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!’”

Record books reflect Toni Stone’s stats, and there are books, including Martha Ackmann’s biography, Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, the First Woman to Play Baseball in the Negro Leagues and references in Allen Pollock and James A. Riley’s Barnstorming to Heaven: Syd Pollock and his great black teams.

Stone’s life is also depicted in an exhibit at the Minnesota History Center and a number of MHS programs for specific audiences prepared by the MHC staff; details of the MHC offerings are available at http://www.minnesotahistorycenter.org/field-trips/toni-stone-resources

 

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