From Diamond in the Rough to Baseball Diamonds: Toni Stone's Story

Toni playing with the New Orleans Creoles. Photo Credit: Oakland Museum of California.

“A woman has her dreams, too. 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.”

- Toni Stone

Marcenia Lyle “Toni” Stone was born in Bluefield, Kentucky on July 17, 1921 to Willa and Boykin Stone. The Stone family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1931. At an early age, Toni had an affinity for baseball and was nicknamed “Tomboy” because of her interest in what were, at the time, considered masculine pursuits. She was a natural athlete and played football, basketball, tennis, hockey, golf, swam, and figure skated, but her heart always belonged to baseball. Her parents were concerned about the young girl’s prospects as they saw her interest in baseball as a dead end for a Black girl. Her family pastor, Father Keefe, saw the passion “Tomboy” had for the sport and invited her to play in a Catholic league team. Toni became a fixture in the tight-knit Black community of the Twin Cities, with the Minneapolis Spokesman declaring in 1937, “We do not hesitate to predict that she some day will acquire the fame of one Babe Didrickson.”

At the age of fourteen, Toni stumbled upon Coach Gabby Street doing drills with young white boys at the Lexington Park baseball field. Toni kept coming to watch practices until Street, an admitted racist and KKK member, relented and let her show her stuff. Toni was unaware of Street’s history of bigotry and Klan membership; she just wanted to play and learn. She showed up all the white boys at the camp and Street let her join, later recalling, “ I just couldn’t get rid of her until I gave her a chance. Every time I chased her away, she would go around the corner and come back to plague me again.”

As a teenager, Toni saw a group of men practicing and she asked the person in charge, George White, if she could shag balls for them and he said yes. After he discovered that Tomboy could do more than shag balls, he asked her if she’d like to barnstorm (play on a traveling team) on the weekends with his team, the Twin City Colored Giants. Toni convinced her mother to let her play as a way to make extra money. She was only sixteen and the only woman on the team. She was a talented player who drew the attention of fans and media alike.

In 1943, at the age of 22, Toni arrived in San Francisco to comfort her sister who was dealing with a rocky marriage, and to find a new start. Toni eventually secured a job welding on the docks, but actually had no practical experience as a welder. By the time her boss realized she didn’t know what she was doing her personality had already won him over. Toni became a driver on the docks, joining the ranks of Rosie the Riveter women all over the country during the war. In San Francisco, Tomboy changed her name to Toni to match her more sophisticated, adult life. Toni found a new home in the Black community of the Fillmore district and a watering hole that suited her just fine, Jack’s Tavern. At Jack’s, Toni met Aurelious Rescia Alberga, a dapper man full of stories and charm. Once Toni started telling Alberga and the owner of Jack’s, Al Love, about her barnstorming days, they were determined to get her on a local baseball team.

Toni jumped at the chance to play ball again and joined an American Legion team. Determined to make a move to bigger things, she approached her coach and he suggested she check in with the San Francisco Seals minor league team, a white team. There were no Negro League franchises out west, as the black population was not as large as in places like Detroit or Birmingham. That changed during and immediately following the war. In 1945, a group of entrepreneurs gathered and established the West Coast Negro Baseball Association, but due to financial troubles, it folded after only eight weeks of play. Two teams, the Oakland Larks and San Francisco Sea Lions, were not willing to give up, and soldiered on. By 1949, Toni had secured a place on the Sea Lions at second base as the team barnstormed across the country.

Due to tensions with teammates and her discovery that she was paid less than her teammates, Toni left the Sea Lions for the New Orleans Creoles. After a game in Iowa, Joe Lewis, one of her idols, sought her out to congratulate her on a great game and it was the sign Toni needed to know that her decision to keep going forward with her baseball career was the right one.

During this time, Toni’s personal life took a surprising turn when she accepted a proposal from Alberga, her much older beau. In December of 1950, the 29-year-old Toni married her 67-yearold husband and they moved into his home in Oakland. Now that they were married, Alberga wanted Toni to stop playing baseball. He was a prominent activist in the Black community in California, but his pushes for equality did not extend to his wife. Toni took a year off, but could not continue to stay away from her first love: baseball.

By this time, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League had risen to prominence and Toni wanted to join other women baseballers. But, the league was segregated and Toni was turned away. When Hank Aaron left the Indianapolis Clowns for the major leagues, a call to Toni was made. She joined the Clowns in 1953. Toni became a hit with crowds and the media, and she kept playing quality baseball even if they wanted her to be a novelty attraction.

For the 1954 season, the Clowns would be hiring two new female players, and offered Toni $50 less a month than she had earned in the previous season. Manager Syd Pollack also put in a call to the Kansas City Monarchs who made Toni another offer that was less, but promised her a place in the starting lineup. Toni chose to go to the Monarchs. At the end of the 1955 season, Toni hung up her cleats.

But Toni could never really stay away. In her later years she coached local teams and played on multiple recreational teams in the Bay Area. Much of Toni’s time was directed towards her husband’s care as Alberga got older. When Alberga turned 100 he asked Toni to give up “sandlot ball” and Toni put away her glove for good at the age of 65.

When the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum opened in Kansas City, women players such as Toni were back in the collective sports fan memory. St. Paul invited Toni back for “Toni Stone Day,” a baseball complex was renamed in her honor, and local playwright Roger Nieboer wrote a play called Tomboy Stone that premiered at Great American History Theatre in St. Paul. Toni was floored when the Women’s Sports Foundation elected her to their Hall of Fame. Of all these honors, Toni was most moved by the inclusion of her and her Negro League colleagues in an exhibit in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Hank Aaron presented the medallions at a banquet in their honor.

Toni Stone died November 2, 1996. She was a true baseballer, a pioneer, and a woman whose love for the game shone through every aspect of her life.


January 4 — January 30, 2022

Quadracci Powerhouse

By Lydia R. Diamond
Directed by Tinashe Kajese-Bolden

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Illustration from Catching the Moon: A Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard, illustrated by Randy DuBurke. Photo Credit: Lee & Lowe Books.