Tuesday, May 28, 2024

People of Note: Toni Stone: A Lady in Baseball

April Matthis performs as Toni Stone

*Featured at the Roundabout Laura Pels Theatre is a remarkable play about a little known female baseball player who played for the Negro Leagues in the 1950s named Toni Stone.

Born in West Virginia as Marcenia Stone, Toni had an inordinate fascination for baseball and began to play it when she was 10 years old. She was not the only female ballplayer who played professional ball.

However, it was not a sport made available to women unless they were so good they couldn’t be denied. Although they were often resented and not always treated kindly.

In 1953, Stone ended up playing for the Negro Leagues Indianapolis Clowns after leaving the San Francisco Sea Lions. She batted in two runs her first time up and was considered a novelty but she left the Sea Lions after not getting paid the agreed amount. The play “Toni Stone” written by Lydia R. Diamond, under the directorship of Pam MacKinnon and performed and narrated by actress April Matthis, primarily covered the segment of her life wherein she played for the Indianapolis Clowns. Although she also played in her career as a ballplayer for the Black Pelicans, the New Orleans Creoles and the Kansas City Monarchs.

Ms Matthis is the only female in the show. Female characters were performed by the 8 males in the cast who consist of Eric Berryman playing the role of Stretch; Harvy Blanks (Alberga); Phillip James Brannon (King Tut); Daniel J. Bryant (Spec); Jimmy is portrayed by actor Toney Goins; Elzie (Jonathan Burke); Kenn E. Head (Millie); and Ezra Knight is Woody.

The Negro League team known as the Indianapolis Clowns

Because Stone was not exactly met with open arms by the teams and male ballplayers she had to compromise. Although she would have loved to imagine herself one of the guys she wasn’t viewed as that, especially since as a woman she was not allowed in the locker rooms and had to change wherever space permitted. Syd Pollack the owner of the Indianapolis Clowns put her in the second base position where she maintained a .243 batting average, making her one of the best players in the league. Yet she still had to bargain for higher pay and be part of a publicity stunt to draw in the crowd.

Unfortunately the Negro teams had to undergo a lot of humiliation and name calling from the white fans and team players. Toni had to endure that insult and also the hatred of some members of her own team.

The production of Toni Stone at the Roundabout, depicted Stone as a loner with few friends and a less than feminine quality. In some ways, she seemed naive and unable to relate romantically with a man unless she was talking about the game. Accepting compliments and being courted by a man-made her feel awkward and out of place so she did not respond readily to courtship. She was to afraid that if she appeared womanly she would not be accepted by her peers or taken seriously. However, she eventually did marry Aurelious Pescia Alberga, a man 40 years her senior and one who didn’t particularly like seeing his wife being injured and abused in the sport.

It took a lot of bravado, fortitude, overcoming obstacles and love of baseball for Toni Stone to follow her dream of being a baseball player to become one of the most remarkable female players in history.

“Toni Stone” is well worth seeing so that the life of a mostly unknown woman in baseball history becomes known. Go see it!

Deardra Shuler has experience in theatre, music, concert promotion, television and publishing. She was  affiliated with the Negro Ensemble Company and is a former manager of the children’s theatre,”TADA.” She has produced and promoted concerts in Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, and Radio City Music Hall.

Ms. Shuler is the former Editor and Managing Editor of three New York City minority newspapers. Presently, she is the Entertainment Editor of The Black Star News. As a freelance writer she writes for several New York City newspapers; including the Examiner, Amsterdam News and Eurweb.

Deardra freelances for Afrocentricnews in California. She is the former PR chairman for the FESPACO film festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Africa, and is presently program manager for BlakeRadio.com where she also hosts her own show “Topically Yours.

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