When the talk turns to Saint Paul baseball greats, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, Joe Mauer and Jack Morris usually come to mind. The four grew up in the capital and went on to serve in the major leagues.
However, the fifth myth is often forgotten. Tony Stone, the Rondo neighborhood kid who broke down racial and gender barriers, once took Hank Aaron’s place on the list and proved time and time again that she can play the game.
She was the second main baseman in the Negro leagues in the 1950s, and was considered the first woman to play men’s professional baseball. More than two decades after her death, her efforts are slowly being recognized. This weekend, Major League Baseball and the Minnesota Twins will honor Stone’s memory with a baseball clinic and girls’ brawls at the Toni Stone Invitational.
“A lot of Minnesota natives don’t know about Tony Stone, you know, it’s not their fault,” said Chelsea Falzone, a youth engagement director for the Twins who, like Stone, grew up in baseball-loving Minnesota. Need to tell her story more. She wasn’t told much. And her story is really, really incredible. “
Their positions have changed
Stone was born Marcinia Lyle Stone in 1921 in West Virginia, but soon moved to Saint Paul, where her parents ran a barber and beauty salon downtown. They lived in the Rondo neighborhood, where Stone gained a love for baseball.
Her first break came when her priest at St Peter Claver Catholic Church convinced Stone’s parents to let her play on the parish boys’ team. In later years, Stone would hang out around Old St. Paul Saints Field, where she kept showing up so often that the manager eventually gave her some baseball gear and invited her to play at a summer baseball camp there for the boys.
“And from there I started playing, oh, for all these teams in St. Paul: The Men’s Meatpacking League, the St. Paul High Lakes, the Catholic Boys League, and then a mobile team of grown men called the Twin City team of the Colored Giants,” said Martha Ackman, author of Curveball. : The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone”.
Ackman, who writes books about the women who shaped and changed America, said she was immediately drawn to Stone’s journey.
“Her story was telling us something not just about her identity but about who we are as Americans,” Ackman said. “And certainly Tony’s story reveals a lot about Jim Crow America and sexism in the United States and what happens when you grow up and dream a dream that people don’t think you should have.”
Stone eventually moved to San Francisco where she joined the San Francisco Sea Lions and later the New Orleans Creoles, small African American teams.
Ultimately, Syd Bullock, owner of the Indianapolis Clowns, Negro Leagues team, chose her to replace Hall of Fame player Hank Aaron after Boston Braves bought Aaron’s contract.
“I knew she was a great baseball player, but she also knew that she was used as an attraction. Now I think he was right about that, he said, ‘If she wasn’t a good player, the fans would have come to see her once,’” Ackman said. And that will be. But if she has the talent, they will continue to see her.”
“Baseball historians say that in the 1952-53 seasons, Tony Stone carried the Negro Leagues on her back, you know, in order to make it still a financially viable business,” Ackman added.
Stone later signed with the Kansas City Monarchs and played for or against many of the baseball greats, including Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, and Satchel Paige.
She faced a lot of sexism from her teammates, fans, and the media. A 1954 story about a female athlete in Jet Magazine described her as “elegant and full of diamonds”. Ackman said Stone was often mocked by fans who asked her to come home to make dinner for her husband.
Ackman said it was tough being a woman trying to get a spot on the men’s team.
Ackman said, “They thought it would weaken the team’s strength. But then when they saw that she was helping them and that she could play, she was very fast. She was good. On the pivot on second base with double play. She can hit really well. Then their positions changed.”
The most beautiful day of my life
Stone retired after the 1954 season, but remained active in baseball in the San Francisco Bay Area for the rest of her life.
It’s amazing, especially given the era, say Ackman and others who have researched Stone’s pioneering efforts in baseball.
“So she’s struggling, first and foremost, as a black person. That must be a struggle. Because again, even here in Minnesota, we’ve had a separate baseball game. It was that difficulty, and now I add to it, here’s this woman stepping in. And she wants to play,” said Frank White, author of “They Played for the Love of the Game: The Untold Stories of Black Baseball in Minnesota.”
White helped get the main field near St. Paul’s Central High School named for Stone. Two panels outside the entrance describe her story.
“You can take this story and realize that she was this woman at a different time in life or the world. And she went on to fulfill her dream,” said White, who coordinates the inner-city youth baseball program for the Twins. “No matter what challenges I faced. I continued with this dream and I think this is a good story for all of us.”
In her later years, Stone began to gain some recognition. Saint Paul was declared Tony Stone’s Day in 1990, and she was invited to speak at local schools about growing up with a baseball dream. During one of those conversations, I remembered when Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier, signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
“It was the most beautiful day of my life,” she told the class.
Stone died in 1996 before Ackman’s book was published, before the field in St. Paul was named after her and before an off-Broadway play about her life won awards from the New York Times and began touring the country.
The Falzone Twins said, “Recognition this weekend is a personal thing to me, because I played baseball with the boys right up to college, and then in college I switched to fast-pitch softball…I love them both so much.”
“We want kids to just play ball. And for little girls who’ve been like me, who’ve fallen in love with baseball for one reason or another, we want them to know they belong on a baseball field, if that’s where they want to be.”
Editor’s note: registration The Twins’ Toni Stone Invitational is open through Thursday night.
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