Who do you think took Hank Aaron’s place on the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns when Aaron moved to the Major Leagues? It was none other than a female: thirty-two year old Toni Stone (born Marcenia Lyle).
She was the first female member of an (otherwise) all-male professional baseball team. She began her career as a pitcher with the Twin Cities Colored Giants, and from there moved on to semiprofessional and minor league Negro teams prior to joining the Indianapolis team.
And before that, she was a little girl with a big dream. This charming book with wonderful illustrations tells the story of how Marcenia, as a very young girl, had no other wish but to play baseball. Her father was opposed: he thought she should be like other girls:
“‘She’ll be what every other girl in this neighborhood will be,’ Papa grumbled. ‘A teacher, a nurse, or – ‘
‘A maid,’ Mama said softly.”
Marcenia got her big chance when Gabby Street, manager for the St. Louis Cardinals, came by her playground looking for kids for his baseball camp. He told Marcenia he could only take boys, but she was so good he gave in and even bought her a pair of cleats:
“Marcenia felt as proud and happy as if she had reached right up in the sky and caught the moon in her glove. She was on her way to becoming a real baseball player. She would make her dream come true.”
Marcenia changed her name when she grew up so that it would sound less cutesy (and more androgenous). As Toni Stone, her most memorable baseball moment came when she played against the legendary Satchel Paige in 1953:
“He was so good,’ she remembered, ‘that he’d ask batters where they wanted it, just so they’d have a chance. He’d ask, ‘You want it high? You want it low? You want it right in the middle? Just say.’ People still couldn’t get a hit against him. So I get up there and he says, ‘Hey, T, how do you like it?’ And I said, ‘It doesn’t matter, just don’t hurt me.’ When he wound up–he had these big old feet–all you could see was his shoe. I stood there shaking, but I got a hit. Right out over second base. Happiest moment in my life.”
In 1985 Stone was inducted into the Women’s Sports Foundation’s International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. In 1990 she was also inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame where she is a part of two separate exhibits including “Women in Baseball” and “Negro League Baseball”. In 1993 Stone was also inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame as well as the Sudafed International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Evaluation: This inspiring, heartwarming book for children has beautiful illustrations by Randy DuBurke and a wonderful message, especially for young girls who want to go beyond the boundaries of what is expected of them.
Published by Lee & Low Books, 2005
Note: You can read an interview with author Crystal Hubbard here in which she talks about what inspired her to write about trailblazers in her picture books.