'People weren't ready for me': Forgotten baseball star threw the game a curve ball

On any given game day, Oracle Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants, is bustling. 

About a block from the ballpark, you'll find Toni Stone Crossing, a street with significantly less foot traffic, but named after a legendary second baseman. 

Few people know Stone's story. 

Stone, who died in 1996, became the first woman to play men's professional baseball. 

When Hank Aaron got called up to the major league, it was Stone who took his place, in the 1940s, as a Black woman, living in a deeply segregated America.

Stone played in the Negro League. Her first team was the San Francisco Sea Lions. 

She later lived in Oakland for nearly two decades. 

Her niece, Maria, still remembers stories Stone shared with her in Oakland. 

"She knew how to throw. She knew how to catch. She didn't think that most girls couldn't play ball with her the way she liked to play," Maria said. "But the boys could."

Stone could play with the best of them. She got a hit off of Satchel Paige, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. Hank Aaron called her "a very good baseball player" and Cubs legend Ernie Banks called her game "smooth" but, Stone may have summed her game up best "People weren't ready for me."

Stone was ahead of her time. 

Playing baseball is hard, playing baseball as the lone Black woman is harder.

Stone was first hired as a promotion to bring people to games. 

"They wanted her to wear a short skirt and almost a see-through blouse," Maria said. She wasn't going to do that. She fought to wear a man's uniform to actually go on the field and play ball with the men."

In a sport known for fast balls and sliders, Stone threw the game a curve ball. 

"She knew what she wanted in life and she fought for it," Maria said. "She wouldn't let anyone get in her way in order to get what she wanted."

At times, Stone was forced to stay in brothels while traveling for road games. Even segregated hotels wouldn't let a woman stay with her male teammates.

"It was a hard struggle for her," Maria said. "In that period of life it was a hard struggle for most women who were in sports, especially Black women."

Now, as the Giants, Stone's favorite team, will play where she once played, Rickwood Field, in Birmingham, Alabama, in a Negro League tribute game. 

Stone's family is adamant she would have done anything to be there. 

Better yet, in true Toni Stone fashion, being there wouldn't have been enough. 

"Knowing my aunt, she would've played," Maria said with a smile. "And she would've been good at it. it would've been a thorn to her because nobody would've wanted her to play and that would've given her more gumption to play to prove to them that she could do it."


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