Not one but three women have played Major League Baseball.
I was a baseball fanatic as a kid. I obsessed over my favorite team, the Boston Red Sox.
I attended countless games at Fenway, collected baseball cards, and sought their autographs.
The Ken Burns Baseball VHS box set provided my baseball history lessons.
And yet I was unaware of the three women who integrated a professional sports league.
Three amazing women who would later compete with their male counterparts on an equal playing field.
So, how could this enormous accomplishment not be a more recognized part of baseball history?
In this article, I seek to explore answers to these questions. I also discuss the limited number of baseball cards representing these amazing women.
I gleaned much of the information for this piece from Martha Ackmann’s excellent biography, Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone.
The easy answer to why I was unaware as a kid of Toni Stone, Connie Morgan, and Peanut Johnson is that the professional baseball league they played in wasn’t considered a “Major League” during my childhood.
These three women integrated the Negro Leagues in the early 1950s when many white baseball fans, players, and administrators viewed the Negro Leagues as illegitimate.
Branch Rickey himself, that canonized champion of baseball’s integration, called the Negro Leagues “a racket”.
He even refused to acknowledge Jackie Robinson’s existing contract with the Kansas City Monarchs when he signed Robinson to the Dodgers in 1946.
The relationship between the Negro Leagues and “Major League” Baseball was complex.
As Branch Rickey pilfered Jackie Robinson, Johnny Wright, Don Newcombe, and others, his justification was that the Negro Leagues weren't *real* leagues, that Black baseball operated a "racket."— Andrea Williams (@AndreaWillWrite) December 16, 2020
And Happy Chandler refused to jump in and stop him.
As baseball’s integration progressed into the 1950s, many also viewed the Negro Leagues as a minor league system.
This perception couldn’t be further from the truth.
Many exhibition games pitted the best white players from the “Major Leagues” against the best black players from the Negro Leagues. These exhibition games were popular and often won by the Negro League teams.
But, it is true that by the early ‘50s, teams from the American and National Leagues poached many star players from the Negro Leagues.
The Negro National League had already folded, and attendance at Negro American League games was declining by this time.
White and black fans alike were drawn to the newly integrated teams of the American and National Leagues.
Negro American League teams were searching for ways to draw in new fans. At the start of the 1953 season, the Indianapolis Clowns were looking to replace their star player, Hank Aaron, who the Boston Braves had signed.
Hank Aaron's Replacement? A Woman Named Toni Stone
Stone had been playing semi-professional baseball for years. She was seeking an opportunity to break into the big leagues and was eager to prove that she could play ball at the highest level.
Stone played one season with the Clowns, although she was frustrated by her lack of playing time. Still, she batted a respectable .243 and earned the respect of many of her male teammates.
After the ‘53 season, the Clowns traded her to the Kansas City Monarchs, where she played in 1954. Her former team, the Clowns, signed two more women - Connie Morgan, who replaced Stone at second base and Peanut Johnson, a pitcher.
Many people perceived the signing of Stone, Morgan, and Johnson to Negro League teams as a publicity stunt. Yet, it’s impossible to deny that these three women held their own against some of the best players in baseball’s history.
Stone famously got one of only two hits off of Satchel Paige in a complete game that he pitched in 1953 against the Clowns (it was an exhibition game).
All three women were also playing in the same league as future Hall of Famers. Guys like Ernie Banks and Buck O’Neil (who was the player/manager of the Monarchs), as well as many players who would later play in the American and National Leagues.
Additionally - the publicity stunt worked. When attendance was declining at Negro League games, people came out to see Toni Stone.
She did fielding drills, took press photos with Jackie Robinson, and was on the covers of popular magazines.
Although her final batting average for the ‘53 season was .243, she went on a tear midway through the season. At one point, she was batting .364 - the fourth-highest batting average in the league at the time.
For a moment, Stone was a star, and she served as an inspiration for young women of color and aspiring female athletes all across the country.
When they traded her to the Monarchs after the ‘53 season, the Clowns went out and signed two new women to their roster.
A Look At The Baseball Cards Of Women
I’ve lamented the lack of baseball cards representing Negro League players in previous posts, and I’ll do it again here.
None of the baseball card sets distributed in the US depicted black players pre-integration even though many black baseball superstars were playing the game at the same level.
Luckily, more and more retrospective sets representing Negro League players have come out in recent years.
Including the first set to include all three female players from the ‘53 and ‘54 seasons - the 2020 Dreams Fulfilled Negro League Legends set.
This attractive set features original artwork from Graig Kreindler (an amazing artist) and a limited print run of 5000.
You can buy a new set from the National Bobblehead store on eBay. A few folks are also selling individual cards from the set on eBay (Toni Stone’s card fetches the highest price of any cards in the set at $10-20).
Yes - you read that right - these two trailblazers, two of only three women ever to play Major League Baseball, weren’t represented on a single baseball card until 2020.
But if you’re looking for Toni Stone cards, there are a few more options. The first and most coveted Toni Stone card comes from the 1977 Laughlin Indianapolis Clowns set.
The Clowns withdrew from the Negro American League following the 1954 season. The League itself folded after the ‘58 season, but the Clowns continued as a barnstorming team into the 1980s.
The 1976 Laughlin Indianapolis Clowns set serves as a retrospective of the club and features cards representing Hank Aaron and other stars. The set also includes the first card ever to feature “Miss Toni Stone.”
Some cards from this set are easy to find at a reasonable price, but the Hank Aaron card is more valuable (a PSA 8 sold for over $200 recently on eBay).
The Toni Stone card rarely appears in online auctions and has only six copies have been graded by PSA.
I’ve only seen part of an ungraded complete set sold for over $200 on eBay.
The most common Toni Stone card is from the 1994 Ted Williams Card Company set.
The card features one of the most prevalent press photos of Stone in an exaggerated throwing pose while playing for the Indianapolis Clowns.
I had a bunch of cards from the ‘93, and ‘94 Ted Williams card company sets when I was a kid, and I never thought that they were the most attractive cards.
Like most other card sets from the junk wax era, they were overproduced and worthless. Even though the 1994 Ted Williams card representing Toni Stone is a relic of the junk wax era, it might still be worth picking up.
There is also one more recent novelty card that I should mention. If we are going on design alone, this would qualify as my favorite Toni Stone card.
Issued by artist Mike Noren in 2019, the 'Gummy Arts' set took the brilliance of Mike Noren's hand drawn card designs and turned them into reality with unopened packs of cards. The Toni Stone card sells for around $10 when available, but there don't appear to be any up for offer now on eBay.
When Will Toni Stone Get Her Due?
In 2020, Major League Baseball recognized the Negro Leagues as Major Leagues. When that happened, Toni Stone became the first woman to play Major League Baseball.
Because of racist ideas about which leagues should qualify as “Major Leagues,” Toni Stone wasn’t recognized as a Major League Player during her lifetime.
I hope that more and more people will learn about her story and give her more recognition for her significant accomplishments.
Toni Stone battled this discrimination, and she deserves recognition as a Major League player. We hope to see her honored in Cooperstown some day.
And maybe, eventually (even despite some overproduction), her baseball cards will finally get the recognition they deserve.