As summer draws to a close I have a story about baseball that I want to share. One of my favorite movies was “A League of Their Own” about the women’s baseball league that formed during World War II to help keep up the spirits of the people during the war years.
There is a new play off Broadway this summer in New York about a second baseman who played in the Negro Leagues for Indianapolis. Toni Stone was the first woman ever to play professional baseball when she took to the field as a second baseman in 1953.
Sadly, no one has ever heard of her until now. In the wake of movies like Hidden Figures about the Black women scientists who made such an impact on NASA flight programs we find this lady who changed the history of baseball. Enduring hardship and discrimination but showing an indomitable spirit and love for sport Toni Stone’s story is told in a play.
Written by playwright Lydia Diamond and starring Pam Mackinnon, this is not the first play about Ms Stone. Another play called “Tomboy Stone” played in St. Paul MN where the ballplayer grew up. The ballplayer died at 75 not long after that play appeared in 1996.
But a book entitled “Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone” brought this woman’s life to the attention of the playwright. As she began to learn more about Toni Stone what she discovered was a singularly focused, unapologetic player who was obsessed about baseball statistics and spent here life drying gender stereotypes, even as she was surrounded by detractors as the team played throughout the Jim Crow South.
Even the all women’s Girls Professional Baseball League whose story was told in a League of Their Own did not include women of color. So Toni Stone had to play on amateur men’s teams. Her break came when the owner of the Indianapolis Clowns signed her to help with ticket sales. She was promoted onto the roster when another player, Hank Aaron, left for the Milwaukee Braves. Playing on sandlots with boys since she was a child, Toni Stone held her own and holds the distinction of getting hit off Satchel Paige, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.
It is a great American story about pluck, summer sports, and character. I hope you continue to enjoy these delicious days of summer.
(I will be away for a week and so we won’t provide a column from me next week.)