Toni Stone was the first woman ever to play professional baseball. That was in 1953, playing as a regular on a big-league professional baseball team, the Negro American League’s Indianapolis Clowns.
Born Marcenia Lyle in Minnesota on July 17, 1921, Stone’s professional baseball career was short. That notwithstanding, her association with the game she started following since infancy spanned over 50 years.
According to historical accounts, Stone at the age of 10 played in a league and at age 15 began playing with the St. Paul Giants, a men’s semiprofessional team.
Stone who’s said to be the most athletic of her four siblings moved to California to live with her ailing sister, a military nurse stationed in Oakland during World War II after graduating from high school, where she began playing center field for the American Legion team.
“Arriving with less than a dollar in her pocket, Lyle found herself a job, a place to live, and a baseball team-all before finding her sister,” Barbara Gregorich, author of Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball narrated per Encyclopedia.com.
“From there she moved to the San Francisco Sea Lions, where her batting average was .280. Stone then secured a position with the Negro League All-Star team. In 1949 she began playing second base for the minor league New Orleans Creoles, and in 1953 she joined the Indianapolis Clowns, playing the same position,” an Encyclopedia Britannica biography of her stated.
“In baseball,” Stone remarked, “I was accepted for who I was and what I could produce.”
It was reported that she could run one hundred yards in 11 seconds and maintaining a .243 batting average while with the Clowns. Despite her incredible talent, she was continuously taunted by her teammates, and was once told: “Go home and fix your husband some biscuits.”
Stone was never deterred, however, and during an exhibition game in 1953, she hit a single off a fastball pitch delivered by legendary player Satchel Paige, one account said.
“I loved my trousers, my jeans. I love cars. Most of all I loved to ride horses with no saddles. I wasn’t classified. People weren’t ready for me,” Stone remarked to Merlene Davis of the Lexington Herald-Leader.
After playing 50 games with the Clowns, Stone was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs, where she retired at the end of the 1954 season. In 1950, Stone married political lawyer Aurelious Alberga, 40 years her senior. Stone then worked as a nurse, mainly caring for her husband, until he died in 1987.
In 1991 Stone and other players from the Negro leagues were honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame, and in 1993 she was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1996, Stone died of heart failure at a nursing home in Alameda, California.