Toni “Tomboy” Stone was the first woman to play for a men’s professional baseball league. Although she was signed to save a lagging Negro League team’s ticket sales, she proved to be far more than just a novelty player.
Marcenia Lyle Stone was born July 17, 1921 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Of her four siblings, Stone was the most athletic and wanted to do nothing more than to play sports, much to the disappointment of her parents. One account shares that Stone’s family sat their 10-year-old daughter down with a local priest to talk her out of her addiction to sports but he instead ended up asking her to play for his Little League team.
By the time she was 15, Stone was playing for a local semi-professional team, the Twin City Colored Giants. Regarded as a phenom, she played second baseman alongside men that towered over her 5-foot-7 frame.
After moving to the Bay Area in the ’40’s to care for a sick sibling, Stone’s fortunes in baseball changed drastically. Now 32, she worked a series of hard labor jobs to make ends meet but found a way to get back to the game she loved. She adopted the name “Toni” and shaved 10 years off her age to hopefully join a local men’s baseball team.
In 1949, the San Francisco Sea Lions of the West Coast Negro Baseball League hired her and paid her a respectable $200 monthly salary. It put Stone on the radar of other teams in the Negro Leagues. Despite her talents, men resented Stone and she told interviewers that it was tough on her. With the Jim Crow laws of the times and the team’s travels, things become difficult for her.
But in 1953, her big break came when the Indianapolis Clowns signed her. The team was akin to the traveling Harlem Globetrotters team, a squad that looked to show up its opponents. The Negro League was declining in quality as many Black stars were defecting to Major League Baseball.
The Clowns’ owner, Syd Pollock, signed Stone as a novelty simply because she was a woman. Pollack even wanted her to wear a skirt in a game to appeal to fans, which she refused. Stone played in 50 games for the Clowns and batting a decent .243, even getting a hit off the legendary pitcher Satchel Paige. She also played with young stars such as Willie Mays and Ernie Banks.
In 1950, Stone married political lawyer Aurelious Alberga, 40 years her senior. After playing for the Clowns, the team traded her to the Kansas City Monarchs, which led to her retirement. She was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.
Stone spent the rest of her days as a nurse and caring for her husband. She passed in 1996 at the age of 75.
Photo: Public Domain