As We Mark the Anniversary of Title IX, I Regret I Never Met Toni Stone—The First Black Woman To Play Professional Baseball

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Toni Stone, the primary lady baseball participant within the Negro Leagues. (AP Picture / Courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum)

“Stars of the Negro Leagues.” I can’t keep in mind the place I purchased the boxed set of buying and selling playing cards that function Black athletes who have been prevented from taking part in Main League Baseball. This, till April 1947 when Jackie Robinson took the sector for the Brooklyn Dodgers and broke the color barrier that had prevailed, for practically a century, in “America’s Nationwide Pastime.” 

Whereas thrilled to personal the extremely collectible playing cards, I’m conscious that the deck doesn’t embody Marcenia Lyle “Toni” Stone. Unfamiliar with the title? I’m not stunned.

Few appear to know that Stone was the primary Black lady to play skilled baseball. Having defended second base for different Negro League groups, she changed Henry “Hank” Aaron on the place when, in 1953, he left the Indianapolis Clowns to affix the roster of the Milwaukee (now Atlanta) Braves.

In April 1974, Aaron bested Babe Ruth’s 714 house file with a shot that cleared the left area wall at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. He died in January 2021 at age 86.

“In bodily dimension [Toni] nearly was equivalent to Aaron,” wrote Martha Ackerman in Curveball, her 2010 e-book about Stone. “Within the area, she turned environment friendly double performs and stood agency towards hard-charging base runners.”

Stone later laced up her cleats for the Negro League’s Kansas Metropolis Monarchs earlier than retiring from baseball at age 33. Then a resident of the San Francisco Bay Space, she labored as a nurse earlier than her demise in November 1996, at age 75.

Because it occurred, I used to be a employees reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle over the last 10 years of Stone’s life. The truth is, we lived inside minutes of one another in close by Oakland, Calif.

As we mark the fiftieth anniversary of Title IX, the landmark June 1972 laws that enabled women and girls to take part totally in interscholastic sports activities, I remorse that I by no means met Toni Stone.

As a substitute, my editors directed me to write down articles a few white, San Francisco 49ers soccer participant whose accidents they at all times deemed headline information. I used to be additionally dispatched to Candlestick Park (since demolished) to cowl baseball video games between the arch rival San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In a rarity for a Nineteen Eighties Black lady reporter, I as soon as interviewed, at house plate, then-Dodgers supervisor Tommy Lasorda. In hindsight, I’d have gladly traded the expertise for a chat with Toni Stone.

For I’ve greater than a journalist’s “goal” curiosity within the life and legacy of Stone. Now age 68, I lament the truth that I deserted softball simply earlier than the passage of Title IX. Threatened by the lesbian baiting that trailed feminine athletes and clueless about Stone’s pioneering position in baseball, I shelved my first base mitt after a single season with a group that had widened my horizons.

In a rarity for a Nineteen Eighties Black lady reporter, I as soon as interviewed, at house plate, then-Dodgers supervisor Tommy Lasorda. In hindsight, I’d have gladly traded the expertise for a chat with Toni Stone.

My softball group—the Marvelettes—was supported with municipal funds for youth recreation applications throughout the Nineteen Sixties-era civil rights motion. Decked out in our crisp white cotton shirts and denim shorts, we travelled to taking part in fields beforehand deemed off-limits for Blacks in my midwestern house city. I don’t recall a single racial slight.

As for gender, ladies in cleats have been quickly branded “mannish” within the coded parlance of the day. The innuendo was an excessive amount of for an adolescent then struggling to suppress lesbian leanings. Feigning disaffection with observe (lame!), I give up softball at season’s finish. Name it an intentional stroll.

Sidelined by societal and internalized homophobia, I successfully forfeited the alternatives that Title IX has now afforded thousands and thousands of women and girls for half a century. On her web site, tennis nice Billie Jean King put it this fashion: “Since Title IX’s passage, feminine participation at the highschool stage has grown by 1057 % and by 614 % on the faculty stage.”

As King additionally famous, Title IX has enabled a rising variety of girls to craft skilled careers in sports activities as gamers, coaches, officiating employees and executives.

Contemplate: Jennifer King, assistant working again coach for the Washington Commanders,  Alyssa Nakken, on-field coach for the San Francisco Giants, Sarah Thomas, the primary lady to officiate in a Tremendous Bowl recreation and Kim Ng, normal supervisor of the Miami Marlins.

Then there’s brazenly homosexual WNBA champion Brittney Griner who has been detained in Russia since February. Like her legions of followers, I want BG (her nickname) a protected return house.

Sidelined by societal and internalized homophobia, I successfully forfeited the alternatives that Title IX has now afforded thousands and thousands of women and girls for half a century.

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Celebrating Toni Stone” by way of Google on Feb. 9, 2022. (Illustrated by Monique Wray)

Whereas I by no means obtained the prospect to fulfill Toni Stone, I used to be delighted by the Google Doodle that, earlier this 12 months, celebrated her baseball career.  For I’m conscious that Jim Crow legal guidelines additionally prevented Stone from taking part in with the All-American Ladies Skilled Baseball League that existed from 1943-1954.

Certainly, the 1992 movie A League of Their Personal, starring Geena Davis, features a scene that activates a Black feminine spectator who’s believed to have been impressed by Stone.

“Toni was not allowed to play within the Girls’s League as a result of she was Black,” stated Monique Wray, the California-based illustrator who created the dazzling animation of Stone for Google. “Enjoying with males within the Negro League was actually the one choice for her.”

As for me, I’d probably be a stronger and extra agile sexagenarian—much less depending on ice packs and heating pads after my aerobics class—had I not deserted softball throughout my youth. So, right here’s a fist bump for the fiftieth anniversary of Title IX with excessive hopes for a Toni Stone card in a brand new version of Stars of the Negro Leagues.

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