League of Her Own

Toni Stone blazed a trail for women by playing in Negro Leagues

March 09, 2012
(NBHOF Library)

Toni Stone's passion for baseball led her to embrace the game through her whole life, while skill and competitiveness made her a pioneer in the Negro leagues. Battling to prove herself to opponents, fans and coaches and teammates, Stone blazed a trail for all women in men's pro baseball.

Marcenia Lyle Stone was born in 1921 in West Virginia. As a teenager in St. Paul, Minn., she excelled in many sports, especially baseball, and acquired the nickname "Tomboy." Stone joined a girl's softball team for a couple of years, but never quit playing hardball with boys, despite the criticism of family and neighbors. The self-described "big, sassy girl" eventually forced her way through barriers to earn the respect of players and coaches, advancing to local semi-pro and American Legion clubs by the age of 15. For years, she joined men's barnstorming tours that travelled throughout the country.

In 1943, Stone moved to California and took the name Toni. She continued to play ball and, in 1949, briefly joined established semi-pro African-American men's clubs in San Francisco and New Orleans, before finally signing on with the respected New Orleans Creoles for the remainder of that season and the next. Although no official records for this club exist, interviews reveal an intense, scrappy infielder with great speed. No slugger, Stone handled the bat well enough to keep her job.

Stone returned to her home and married Aurelious Alberga, sitting out the 1951 season. She hoped to return to play the next year, but got no response when she applied to the white All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Nearing the age of 32, her biggest break in the game was still to come.

The Indianapolis Clowns, one of the few successful African-American ballclubs remaining, offered Stone a contract for 1953, hoping a woman player would draw fans to games. By mid-season, still using the name Stone, the second sacker was attracting attention for her .346 average, good for fourth in the league. Though her final average in league games was .234, her success inspired two more black women to try out for the Clowns, Mamie Johnson and Connie Morgan.

Stone jumped to the Kansas City Monarchs in 1954, but fought nagging injuries and played rarely. Her days as a pro were at an end, but her love of baseball stayed strong for years, playing in recreation leagues and coaching teenage boys.

The story of Stone’s pro career was mostly forgotten for decades, only occasionally revived in the press as a curiosity. Then, as research in the baseball history of women and African Americans increased, descriptions of her career changed from footnote to trailblazer. By the 1990s she was featured in exhibits in both the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, while St. Paul held an official "Toni Stone Day" and named a baseball complex after her.

Toni Stone Alberga died in 1996.

Lenny DiFranza is the assistant curator of new media for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum