GladiatHers® History: A League of Her Own, Toni Stone
The first women to play professional baseball, Stone spent her life and career defying gender stereotypes.
The “female Jackie Robinson”, the “woman who replaced Hank Aaron”, that isn’t news you hear too often. Born as Marcenia Lyle Stone on July 17, 1921 in St. Paul Minnesota, Stone would later become the first woman to play professional baseball, spending her life and career defying gender stereotypes.
Her love for the game started as a child and continued into her adolescence. At the age of 10 she played in a league sponsored by a cereal company. When Stone was 15, she began to play for a men’s semi-professional team, the St. Paul Giants. As Stone grew older, she continued to get involved in the game, moving to California upon high school graduation where she joined the American Legion team playing center field.
This was only the beginning for Stone. She later moved on to play for the San Francisco Sea Lions with a batting average of .280. From there Stone secured a spot on the Negro League All Star Team. In 1949, after a short stint with the Black Pelicans of New Orleans she became the second basemen for the minor league team the New Orleans Creoles. Four years later Stone was signed by the Syd Pollack, the owner of the Indianapolis Clowns to play second base where a year earlier Hank Aaron had played the same position.
She was able to run 100 yards in 11 seconds and maintained a .243 batting average while playing with the Clowns. During an exhibition in 1953 she hit a single off a fastball pitch by legendary Satchel Paige. Stone not only earned her seat at the table; she broke barriers for women in baseball.
Stone did not let the taunting or criticism she received from her teammates or fans stop her. She persisted through the noise of her being a woman and the media focusing on her wearing a dress. Stone did not let anything stop her from getting on that field, sometimes having to get dressed in the umpire locker room if she was lucky. She also wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself when she quit playing with the San Francisco Sea Lions because she had not received the pay she had been promised.
There is a lot to be learned through Stone’s perseverance. Stone even confided in teammate Al Lombardi on the New Orleans Pelicans, “A woman has her dreams, too,” she told Lombardi. “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 their families picked for her. It wasn’t right. “A woman can do many things.”
Undeterred and unbothered, Stone’s legacy lives on as she can be found in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. Additionally, you can learn more about Stone in movies such as A League of Their Own or Curveball, even featured on Broadway.
Stone’s story is one in a long list of women who have suffered hardship, discrimination, and unfair treatment to overcome adversity. A truly remarkable story that should not be left out of the history of baseball. As the first woman, not first African American woman, first woman to play professional baseball Toni Stone is a pioneer, trailblazer, and truly in a league of her own.