Marcenia Lyle ‘Toni’ Stone’s story is part myth, part fact. Some say she got a hit off the great Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige on an Easter Sunday in 1953, although there’s no record of it actually happening during that exhibition game. It was widely reported Stone signed a $12,000 contract with the Indianapolis Clowns – more than Jackie Robinson’s first major league contract. But those marketing ploys to attract attention for a female ballplayer could have been exaggerated. Publicists bragged about Stone’s Macalester College degree, but it said she dropped out of Roosevelt High School as a teen to pursue a career in baseball. The truth about Marcenia Lyle Stone is that she was the first woman to play as a regular on an American big-league baseball time. Born in 1921 in West Virginia, her family moved to St. Paul when she was 10 years old. She was a natural ball player and loved playing with the neighborhood boys. But her mother, a hairstylist, tried to curb the ‘tomboy’ in Marcenia and bought her ice skates. It didn’t work. Stone reportedly skipped school to play baseball. She tried the local school leagues, even girls’ softball – nothing moved fast enough or played hard enough for her. Coaches weren’t interested in cultivating her raw talent. So, Stone taught herself by reading rule books and showing up to watch the St. Paul Saints practice. She’d get chased away, only to come back and beg the manager for a chance to play.
At 16, she finally got her wish: Stone started playing weekend barnstormers with the twin City Colored Giants. Earning $3 a game only gave her bigger dreams of making it in baseball. She packed her bags and moved to San Francisco, where Marcenia took a stage name and became ‘Toni’ Stone. It was here she met a World War II Captain named Aurelious Alberga who married her, despite her determination to play professional baseball. A sports career didn’t come easy: She shaved 10 years off her age to play amateur baseball teams for teenagers. She talked her way onto The San Francisco Sea Lions in 1949 but quit when she found she was paid less than the men on the team. Stone joined the New Orleans Creoles for three years before signing with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952 to play second base. She played in more than 50 games, batting .243.
Stone was the first female player in the Negro Leagues. Her unique role drew crowds, but she was not accepted by the teams she played on. Her arms carried scars from being spiked by runners. She wasn’t allowed in the locker room. Kept on the bench. Once she was asked to wear a skirt during play, but she refused.
By 1954, the years of fighting for a place in baseball took its toll. Her contract was sold to the Kansas City Monarchs, but she never got much playing time. When the season ended, Stone moved home to Oakland, California to care for her aging husband. Alberga died at age 103. Stone retired to an Alameda nursing home where she died of heart failure in 1996. She’s been included in exhibits at the Baseball Hall of Fame and has been inducted in both the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.