Baseball Cards Of The Players That Shaped Toni Stone’s Career
In a previous article, I wrote about Toni Stone, the first female MLB player.
Stone played in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953, and the Kansas City Monarchs in 1954.
Here, I will dive deeper into her story, exploring how she reached her lifelong goal of playing professional baseball at the highest level.
Along the way, I will identify some of the famous ballplayers who lent her a hand.
Much of the information I present here comes from the excellent biography of Toni Stone, “Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone”, by Martha Ackmann.
I’d encourage those interested in Toni Stone’s story to give it a read!
Toni Stone’s Childhood In St. Paul
Toni Stone was born Marcenia Stone, and was known as “Tomboy” in the Rondo neighborhood of Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she grew up in the 1930s.
The Rondo was a small black neighborhood in a predominantly white city.
Like many other black communities across the US, it was demolished to make way for an interstate highway post-World War II.
But during the 1930s the Rondo was a bustling and eclectic neighborhood, and baseball played a key role in the community.
“Tomboy” Stone started off playing baseball for the St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, competing in the Catholic boy’s league for four years.
Stone was also paying close attention to other local ball clubs, one of which was the Saint Paul Saints.
The Saints were a minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox that played home games near Stone’s house.
“Gabby” Street managed the Saints in 1936. Street had recently been fired from his job managing the St. Louis Cardinals.
He took the infamous “Gas House Gang” to two straight pennants, and won a World Series title in 1931. He was a major league catcher from 1904 - 1912, most famously as the battery for Walter Johnson.
Gabby Street’s Baseball School
Although Street was managing a team that consisted only of white men, “Tomboy” Stone was fascinated by the man. In 1936, at the age of 14, she began watching the Saints practice.
That summer, when Street launched a baseball school for local kids in Saint Paul, Stone decided that she would attend. She was the only girl and the only non-white kid who showed up, and she was not allowed to take part.
But she kept showing up, day after day, and Street finally relented.
In an interview, he recalled, “I just couldn’t get rid of her until I gave her a chance. Every time I chased her away, she would go around the corner and come back to plague me again.”
According to Lieb, “Gabby” Street was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
"Gabby Street, Rogers Hornsby, and Tris Speaker, fellow stars from the old Confederate states, told me they were members of the Ku Klux Klan. I don't know whether Cobb was a Klansman, but I suspect he was."
- sportswriter Fred Lieb, from "Baseball as I Have Known It"
Street’s nickname “Gabby”, came from his propensity to call all black people by the same offensive moniker of “Gabby”.
A Brand New Pair of Baseball Cleats
Amazingly, not only did the openly racist Street allow a young black girl to join his baseball school, but by all accounts the two actually became friends.
Stone continued playing baseball under the tutelage of Street for over a year, and on her 15th birthday, Street gifted Toni Stone a brand new pair of baseball cleats. She would wear this same pair of cleats throughout her entire baseball career.
By the start of the 1938 baseball season, “Gabby” Street had left Saint Paul to manage the Saint Louis Browns. The Browns won only 53 games that season, and this put an end to Street’s career as a manager.
Looking back at Street’s baseball career, there are many impressive achievements.
He played a key role in the development of Walter Johnson’s pitching career and played alongside some of the greatest ballplayers of all time.
Street became famous for catching a baseball dropped from the top of the Washington Monument. He also managed a World Series champion team.
But, history will remember “Gabby” Street for the kindness that he showed to a young, black, female ballplayer. One who would go on to become the first woman to play Major League Baseball.
The story of “Gabby” Street’s unlikely friendship with Toni Stone is told in the children’s book, “Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream”.
I bought a copy of the book for my two young nieces this past Christmas, along with copies of Toni Stone’s 1994 Ted Williams Card Co. baseball card.
The book glosses over much of the racial tension present during “Gabby” Street’s baseball school, yet it’s still a great story for any young baseball fan.
Gabby Street Baseball Cards
As I highlighted in my previous article about Toni Stone - there is a distinctive lack of baseball cards representing her as a player.
But if one were to expand the scope of their Toni Stone card collection to include players that influenced her career, “Gabby” Street would be the first player to look at.
Some might balk at the idea of promoting the collectibility of baseball cards representing an openly racist ballplayer.
I argue that by collecting Street's cards in the context of Toni Stone's career, we are reframing Street's accomplishments.
It isn't his time spent playing in the MLB, or his managerial career that makes him an important historical figure - it was his role in helping Toni Stone.
When viewed through this lens, Street's importance becomes subservient to the much greater historic significance of Toni Stone's achievements.
Street, who was at the peak of his popularity as a player from 1908 - 1911 when he was catching for Walter Johnson, has two cards from the famous T206 baseball card set.
These tobacco cards were released from 1909 to 1911, and represent one of the most collectible baseball card sets of all time.
The action card with Street shown wearing his glove is the more attractive card in my opinion, but both are highly collectible.
T206 cards are well known for all the different variations on the backs of the cards, meaning that each player’s card has many variations with backs advertising different tobacco brands.
I won’t get into the details associated with the relative scarcity of different variations of Street’s T206 cards, but if you’re interested you can read all about T206 backs here.
Street was featured on a T201 Mecca double folders card from 1911 - a card that features Walter Johnson on one side, and a smaller image of Street on the back.
This is a great card that represents Street’s famous role as The Big Train’s catcher. Walter Johnson’s presence increases the value of this card - PSA 3 copies are selling for $400-550, and a higher grade example will cost over $1,000.
Both are attractive cards that are generally priced as commons (although the T3 Turkey Red cards are a bit pricey).
Street’s last card as an active player, and the only card to show him as a member of the New York Highlanders (later known as the Yankees), is his T207 brown backgrounds card from 1912.
I particularly like the design of these cards, and Street’s card, generally priced as a common, is a great example from this set.
The last “Gabby” Street card that I’ll mention is his card from the 1940 Play Ball set. This set was one of the first to include many non-active players.
This card shows a photo of an older Street, as Toni Stone would have known him, a few years after he famously gifted those new cleats.
Playing Semi-Pro Baseball
By the time Toni Stone was 16, she was playing for the Twin Cities Colored Giants, a local barnstorming team that would travel on the weekends for games.
Although the Colored Giants weren’t considered to be a professional team, they would play against professional teams.
This gave Stone her first chance to face off against top-level ballplayers, and gave her an understanding of what life as a professional ballplayer might be like.
After a few years playing with the Colored Giants, Toni Stone moved to San Francisco. There, she was unknown in the local baseball world, and once again she had to prove herself as a player.
In 1948, after several years of playing alongside male counterparts in local amateur leagues in the Bay Area, she was offered a spot on the roster of the San Francisco Sea Lions, a semi-pro barnstorming team that featured several former Negro League players.
Today, the family of Toni Stone, the first female known to play on a professional men’s baseball team was presented with a Sea Lions jersey to honor Stone’s legacy. Stone was a member of the Negro Leagues in which she played for the Sea Lions and later the Indianapolis Clowns. pic.twitter.com/fYVr1J0IhW
— SFGiants (@SFGiants) June 19, 2021
The next year the Sea Lions traveled to New Orleans to play a series of games against the New Orleans Creoles, another semi-pro team.
The owner of the Creoles was enamored by Stone and her performance in these games and offered her a contract a few weeks later.
Stone had just found out that she was being paid less money than her male counterparts on the Sea Lions, so it was an easy decision for her to join the Creoles.
Stone left the Creoles at the end of the 1950 season, moved back to the Bay Area, got married, and took two years off from baseball.
Although it may have looked like she had given up on her dream to play professional ball at the highest level, she was actively strategizing her next move.
A Look At Other Female Baseball Players
By this time, several other women had had opportunities to play baseball with professional male players.
The most famous of these women was Jackie Mitchell, who (maybe) struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game in 1931.
This was the first time a woman had signed a contract to play in the minor league baseball system.
This occurred a few years after Jackie Robinson had integrated the National League. This led Toni Stone (and many others) to believe that there could be an opportunity for women to integrate the National and/or American League.
This door slammed shut when a Minor League executive nullified Engle’s contract before she was even able to take the field.
Eleanor Engle and Jackie Mitchell Baseball Cards
Eleanor Engle was featured on a card in the 1991 Topps Archives set. This set reproduced the classic 1953 Topps set, but added a number of “cards that never were”. It’s a great-looking card, and can be picked up for just a few bucks.
Jackie Mitchell was featured on a card from the 1988 Chattanooga Lookouts Legends set. It’s not a particularly attractive card, but still, an interesting collectible that can be purchased for under $10.
Mitchell also has a card from the 2009 TriStar Obak set.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (for whites only)
Toni Stone had also been paying close attention to the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).
She actually wrote to executives of the league requesting a tryout. Nobody ever responded. Throughout it's 12 year existence from 1943 - 1954 the AAGPBL remained a whites only league.
With her rejection from the AAGPBL as well as the nullification of Eleanor Engle’s contract weighing on her mind, Stone set her sights on playing in the Negro Leagues.
Joining the Indianapolis Clowns
Things were changing quickly within the Negro Leagues in the 1950s, but the quality of play remained at a very high level.
In 1953, the Indianapolis Clowns had just lost their star player, Hank Aaron, to the Boston Braves.
They were looking for another player with equal draw power - someone who would energize audiences and bring them out to the ballpark.
Toni Stone was that ballplayer.
Although Stone didn’t have Aaron’s power at the plate, she had proven her value on the field time and time again. At one point in the 1953 season, she was batting an outstanding .364.
Her presence on the Clowns drew large audiences in many of the towns where they played, contributing to a successful season for the team.
Toni Stone’s Teammates
I wrote about the baseball cards that represent Toni Stone’s time on the Clowns in an earlier post.
But what about her fellow teammates on this groundbreaking team?
Unfortunately, there are no playing day cards for any Negro League players.
But I’ll highlight a few of the players who played alongside Toni Stone below. With some different card options for collectors.
Buster Haywood was the manager of the Clowns in 1953 and was a veteran of the Negro Leagues by this time.
He’s featured in the 1978 Laughlin Long Ago Black Stars set, as well as the 1986 Fritsch Negro League Stars set.
The ‘78 Laughlin card appears to be more scarce and is worth a bit more (a PSA 8 is on eBay now for over $50).
In 1953, the Clowns signed a rookie pitcher named John Wyatt.
Wyatt played for the Clowns from 1953 to 1954 before playing for the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of the 1954 season.
He came back and played another season with the Clowns in 1955.
Wyatt eventually landed on the roster of the Kansas City Athletics, where he became the primary reliever on the team from 1962 - 1965.
He struggled in 1966, while Native American reliever Jake Aker excelled, gaining the top reliever role in the Kansas City bullpen.
Partway through the ‘66 season, Wyatt was traded to the Red Sox.
I’ve written about the 1967 Red Sox and their “Impossible Dream” season, but I didn’t highlight the role of John Wyatt.
Wyatt became the team’s star reliever in ‘67. Pitching was the weak point for that Red Sox team, with Jim Lonborg pitching more than twice as many innings as any other pitcher on the roster.
Wyatt was Lonborg’s counterpart in the bullpen, pitching in 60 games, earning 20 saves and 10 wins with a 2.60 ERA. The Impossible Dream would not have been possible without John Wyatt.
Wyatt was one of two players on that 1967 Red Sox team whose professional baseball careers began in the Negro Leagues.
The other was Elston Howard, who also played a key role. Given my affinity for the Red Sox, John Wyatt’s 1967 Topps card is one that I had to own - and a high-grade example will only set you back a few bucks.
His first card (I guess you could consider it to be his rookie card) came out in the 1963 Topps set.
A full ten years after his rookie season with the Indianapolis Clowns.
Both of these John Wyatt cards are interesting in their depiction of Wyatt’s time with the Indianapolis Clowns.
I’ve written in previous posts about how the Negro Leagues were misrepresented in baseball cards throughout the 1950s and 60s (check out this interesting research paper on this topic), and these John Wyatt cards are a great example of this misrepresentation.
On his 1963 Topps card back, instead of stats from Wyatt’s 1955 season, it says, “Not in Organized Baseball” (Wyatt was playing for the Indianapolis Clowns that season).
On his 1967 card, his 1955 season is represented by the words, “Voluntary Retired List”! It’s no wonder that many baseball fans throughout this period didn’t take the Negro Leagues seriously.
After the 1953 season, Toni Stone accepted an offer to play with the Kansas City Monarchs.
The Monarchs were one of the most well-known teams from the Negro Leagues, partly because Satchel Paige was their star pitcher for many years.
In 1954 the player-manager of the Monarchs was Buck O’Neil.
O’Neil had a long playing career in the Negro Leagues before taking over as manager of the Monarchs. He would later become the first African American coach on an integrated team in Major League Baseball.
Towards the end of his life, O’Neil co-founded the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. He was elected to the baseball hall of fame on November 5th, 2021.
O’Neil and Stone had great respect for each other, but disagreed often during the 1954 season.
Stone continued to be frustrated by a lack of playing time. She quit the team at the conclusion of the season, after one final argument with O’Neil about her playing time.
Like most other Negro League players who never played in the American or National Leagues, no baseball cards representing O’Neil were produced during his time as a player.
He was featured in the same 1986 Fritsch Negro League Stars set that Buster Haywood appears in.
He has another card in the 1994 Ted Williams Card Company set - where Toni Stone is also featured with a card. Both cards can be found for just a few bucks.
Since his ‘94 Ted Williams card came out, there has been a glut of Buck O’Neil cards produced.
As one of the leading advocates for increased acknowledgment and respect for the Negro Leagues, O’Neil has gained quite a bit of recognition over the past few decades. This culminated in his election to the Hall of Fame in 2021.
A few modern cards featuring O’Neil that are worth mentioning are his three cards in the 2020 Dreams Fulfilled Negro League Legends series.
This was the first baseball card set to feature all three women who played professional ball in the Negro Leagues.
These cards can be found on eBay for under $10 apiece, and this set was limited to a print run of 5,000.
A Topps Now card featuring Buck O’Neil was printed to commemorate his entry to the Hall of Fame in 2021. With a low print run of 881 and a nice photo of an older O’Neil, it’s a great card to pick up.
More Recognition for Toni Stone
Toni Stone played with many other notable players during her years playing professional and semi-professional baseball.
She also played against many well-known players.
Ernie Banks played with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1953 and played against Stone’s Indianapolis Clowns.
In 1954 the Clowns replaced manager Buster Haywood with baseball legend Oscar Charleston.
Charleston is a Hall-of-Famer, and the greatest of all time according to Buck O’Neil.
There were few opportunities for Toni Stone to be recognized for her outstanding ability and achievements during her lifetime.
In 1990, a few years before her death, Stone was included in two new exhibits at the Baseball Hall of Fame - one on “Women in Baseball” and another on the Negro Leagues. She died in 1996.
Martha Ackmann’s biography of Stone was published in 2010, and a popular play based on the book premiered in 2019.
The children’s book “Catching the Moon” about Stone’s relationship with Gabby Street was published in 2005.
I’m optimistic that as more time passes, Toni Stone’s enormous achievements will become more widely recognized.
With this increased recognition will come many more Toni Stone baseball cards.