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Who was the First Woman to Play Professional Baseball?

1924 Colored World Series at Philadelphia Ball Park

If you are reading this, there is a decent chance you play MLB the Show. The new edition is coming out soon, and in one of the trailers, they revealed a new legend of the game: Marcenia Lyle, better known as Toni Stone, the first woman to play professional baseball. Now if you are like me, you have no idea who this person is, which is crazy because you think that a woman playing professional baseball would be talked about more often. Now, Negro League players have an ambiguous history because different sources give many different, and sometimes unreliable, accounts of their careers. However, there is a consistent story surrounding Toni Stone and her journey to be the first-ever female professional baseball player.

Toni Stone was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1931. She proved to be a great athlete from a very young age, playing football, basketball, golf, hockey, and tennis growing up, but baseball was the game in which she would etch herself into the history books. From an early age, she was playing in the all-boys little leagues, and at age 15, she began playing with the St. Paul Giants, a men’s semiprofessional team. In 1949, she began playing second base for the minor league New Orleans Creoles. By the time she was 22 in 1953, standing at a whopping 5’7 and weighing 146 lbs, Stone joined the Indianapolis Clowns, a professional Negro League team, to also play second base. Six years before Toni Stone joined the Clowns, Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier and had started playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, thus beginning MLB integration. That means the best of the best players from the Negro Leagues were slowly being pulled onto MLB rosters, including the player that Toni Stone replaced on the Clowns: future Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

It was not all sunshine and rainbows for Toni Stone when she reached the Negro League. Stone was only promoted to the Clowns as a way to promote ticket sales, as the Negro League teams were losing fans with all their stars transitioning to the MLB. The Clowns’ publicists even created a false backstory for Stone to make her more marketable, claiming she had graduated from the prestigious Macalester College when she never even finished high school. The team also despicably reported her seasonal salary at $12,000 when, by her own admission in a later interview, Stone was paid just about $400 per month. To the team’s management, all she was was just a ploy to bring in more revenue. She never actually played a full game, as the Clowns, and later the Kansas City Monarchs, both would only put her in for a few innings per game, just to appease the crowd.

Stone was taunted at times by teammates, once being told, “Go home and fix your husband some biscuits.” Another story talks about how the team’s owner urged her to wear a skirt, to improve the fans’ attraction towards her. Stone, however, remained unbothered by the childish jeers and did not care what the fans thought about her. She was serious about baseball and baseball alone, and she insisted on wearing the official uniform. Overall though, in her time in the Negro League, she was treated just like everyone else while on the field. She was hit by pitches and slide tackled on double plays just like everyone else, and that is exactly how she wanted it. Toni was even rumored to be able to run 100 yards in 11 seconds. One of her most famous stories is the time she hit an RBI single off of the best Negro League pitcher to ever play, Satchel Paige. Stone said in an interview later in life, “People couldn’t get a hit against him. I stood there shaking, but I got a hit. Right over second base. Happiest moment in my life”. 

Toni Stone was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs after just 50 games with the Clowns and retired with after the 1954 season. She was tired of being exploited by these teams and being unable to enjoy the full professional baseball experience. She never felt like the league never accepted her as a true player, even though her play was on par with the rest of the league. Stone racked up a career .243 batting average. It was not the most outstanding number, but it put her at the league average. She was able to hold her own in one of the biggest professional leagues, and it is terrible she never got to realize her full potential. However, the impact she had was lasting. Toni Stone was the first of three women to play professional baseball. Following in her footsteps were Connie Morgan and Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, but Toni Stone was the most successful and influential.

After Stone retired she continued to coach and play semi-professional ball well into her sixties. She also became a nurse and cared for her husband until he passed at the ripe age of 103. In 1990, Stone’s hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota declared March 6 “Toni Stone Day” in the city. Stone earned her place in the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and was later honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with many other Negro League Players. Finally, on November 2nd, 1996, at the age of 75, Toni Stone died in a nursing home in California from heart failure, but she left behind a legacy to be proud of. There was even an off-broadway play, entitled “Toni Stone”, produced about her life by award-winning playwright Lydia R. Diamond.

Being the first ever woman to play professional baseball is a huge feat, yet no one seems to know who Toni Stone was. It took her being added to a video game for me even to know her name. Hopefully, with her card in MLB The Show, Stone will become more well-known, and she will be recognized for all of her impressive accomplishments. A lot can be learned from Toni Stone’s life and all the adversity she endured to pursue her dreams. As Stone said, “A woman has her dreams too. A woman can do many things”.


Image source: Toni Stone


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