“The Other Jackie Robinson”

When Lyle Stone and the New Orleans Creoles came to Dublin in the spring of 1950, they came to play a ball game to raise funds for the new swimming pool at the Colored 4-H Camp.  The game was played on May 17, 1950  in Lovett Park.  The Creoles, one of the top minor league teams of the Negro Leagues, traveled the country playing big league teams like the Kansas City Monarchs, Birmingham Black Barons and the Louisville Cubs, and lower level minor league teams like the Georgia Cubans who were their opponents that evening. Alas, there was no report of the results of the game, which came in second to the ballyhooed Lyle, who was billed as the “new Jackie Robinson.”

Playing for the Creoles that night in Dublin were old veterans Alfred Pinkston, Roy Swanson, Bill Terrell, Joe Spence, Ernie Costello, James Williams, Buddy Lombard, James Ruston, “Lefty” Brooks, and “Lefty” Johnson.  Tickets were 90 cents for men, 50 cents for women, and 40 cents for children.  A special section was set aside for white fans.   The Dublin Irishmen, of the Georgia State League were away from home playing the Tifton Blue Sox.

Lyle was born in 1921 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Lyle loved to play baseball and by the age of 10 was able to play in the Catholic Midget League.  Lyle met Gabby Street, the former manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, at a Wheaties baseball school in Minneapolis.  Street thought that Stone had some promise and encouraged the teenager to stick to the game.  By the age of fifteen, Lyle gave up high school baseball to play for the St. Paul Giants, a semi-pro team.  Shortly thereafter, Stone earned a spot on Al Loves’ American Legion’s championship team.

Lyle’s first professional at bat for the San Francisco Sea Lions, resulted in a two-rbi drive. A pay dispute erupted between Lyle and the Sea Lions management, which led to another short stint, this time with the New Orleans Black Pelicans.  Lyle was signed by the New Orleans Creoles late in the 1949 season.

After the 1952 season, Lyle was signed to a $12,000.00 annual contract by Syd Pollack, of the Indianapolis Clowns, who had won the Negro American Baseball League for three straight seasons.   Stone, a natural second baseman, followed   in the foot steps of a pretty fair middle infielder for  the Clowns in 1952. His name was Henry Aaron.

The Clowns, who began playing in the early 1930s, were the last of the Negro League teams. Originally the Ethopian Clowns, the team played in a style similar to their basketball counterparts, the Harlem Globetrottrs.  The Clowns played an exhibition game in Dublin in 1940 down the street at the old 12th District Fairgrounds field.  It has been said the Clowns were the inspiration for the 1976 movie, “Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings.”  The Clowns were the first professional baseball team to hire a female player to a long-term contract.

By the middle of the 1953 season, Stone was fourth in the league in hitting with a .368 average,  behind the leader and future Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, who was batting an even .400.  Stone’s slick fielding and consistent hitting were a drawing card whenever the Clowns played on the road.  Stone got to see and play against  two future hall of famers Willie Mays and Ernie Banks in their last seasons in the Negro Leagues.

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end.  In late July, Stone succumbed to a series of leg problems and injuries.   The embattled infielder would not quit, but ended the season with a disappointing, yet decent,  average of .243 (.265 by some accounts.)

During the off season following the 1953 season, Stone signed a contract to play with the Kansas City Monarchs, managed by Buck O’Neil, from time to time while still a member of the Clowns, the 1953 American Negro League Champions.  Stone’s two teams often played each other, but the true sportsman was out to win every game.

In the 1954 season in which they won their second consecutive American Negro League crown, , the Clowns added two women to their lineup, Mamie Johnson, a pitcher, and Connie Morgan, an infielder.

Stone’s career ended after the 1954 season.  The Monarchs went on the road after the Kansas City Athletics came to Kansas City in 1955.

Let’s go back to Dublin on the 1950 May evening  to see what all the clamor about Toni Stone was all about.  Erroneously billed as Lizzie Tillman,   Toni Lyle Stone, was actually billed as the “Female Jackie Robinson.”

Yes, the center of attention for the Creoles, the Clowns and the Monarchs was their female second baseman.  In fact, Toni Stone established her place in baseball history as the first female ever to play at the major league level in the Negro Leagues.

Stone remarked to a reporter of the Columbus Dispatch in 1954, “I don’t ask for any favors and I don’t expect any.” She once added, “To tell the truth, I sort of felt like a goldfish,”  when she was asked about how it felt to be the starting second baseman for the reigning Negro league Champions..

Oscar Charleston, manager of the Clowns and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, commented that Stone was a good pitcher as well and  her good curve made some major leaguers look silly.”

Although Toni was not as good a hitter as Jackie Robinson, she was met with similar problems.  She was proud that the male players were out to get her.  She would even show the scars of the many times she was spiked by runners sliding into second base. When she was lucky, she was given the chance to change into and out of her uniform in the umpires’ dressing room.   Her owners wanted her to play in a skirt, but Stone was adamant the was not going to play as a girl, but as a ball player. “It was hell,” she once said.

After the 1954 season, the thirty-three-year old Stone, moved back to Oakland, California to work as a nurse and care for her sick husband. Toni Stone was featured in the 1990s exhibits on Women In Baseball and The Negro Leagues in the National Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Stone was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and later into the Sudafed International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.

It was up until her dying day on November 2, 1996 that the 75-year-old pioneer player in baseball remembered the game in which she got the sole hit, a solid line drive to center,  in the game against the opponent’s pitcher, That pitcher was Satchel Paige, the greatest pitcher in Negro League history.

“I was so excited I could barely make it to first base,” Toni recalled.

Toni Stone indeed made it to first base, second,  third, and around to home plate.  Today, she stands alone as the first female in any sport to play in solely male major league sport.  She fought dual discrimination against her because of her race and her sex.  She indeed was the female Jackie Robinson.”