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Black History Month: Toni Stone Made Baseball History as the Sport’s First Professional Female Player

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This February, Sports Illustrated is celebrating Black History Month by spotlighting a different iconic athlete or group of athletes every day. Today, SI looks back on the legacy of Toni Stone. 

Toni Stone made baseball history by being the first female professional baseball player in history, but it was undoubtedly a difficult journey.

Not only was she generally mistreated by a Jim Crow America that denied her basic human rights, but also by her own athletic peers.

Stone wasn't allowed to change in the men's locker room and was routinely disrespected by her teammates on a day-to-day basis. 

Despite facing discrimination from all fronts, she maintained her impact on the field, playing solid defense and hitting for average. Stone said she took pride in the jibes she got from the men around her, proudly brandishing the cuts she received from shoe spikes as battle scars. 

After beginning the first several years of her career with the San Francisco Sea Lions, New Orleans Creoles and New Orleans Black Pelicans, Stone joined the Indianapolis Clowns, replacing Hank Aaron at second base. Aaron had left for MLB's Boston Braves earlier that year. 

Through her 50 games with the Clowns, she logged a .243 batting average and notched a hit off Satchel Paige, who was perhaps the best pitcher to ever live

Her success was a long time coming. From childhood, everyone around her knew she was bound for greatness.

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From the book Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone:

She was an astonishing athlete who seemed to excel at everything she attempted: swimming, golf, track, basketball, hockey, tennis, ice skating. She was even the most feared kid in the neighborhood when it came to playing red rover.

But it was baseball that eventually won her heart—and the minds of those around her.

"We do not hesitate to predict that she some day will acquire the fame of one Babe," the Minneapolis Spokesman wrote in 1937, with "Babe" referring to two-time gold medalist Babe Didrikson. 

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Stone's legacy lives on as a pioneer for African Americans and women across professional sports. 

From the the aforementioned book: 

No other woman ever matched Toni Stone's accomplishments in baseball—during her nearly two decades of play or since. She was the first woman to play professional baseball on men's teams in the Negro League of the 1950s. ... "She was a very good baseball player," Hank Aaron said. Known as a tenacious athlete with quick hands, a competitive bat, and a ferocious spirit, Toni was a pro and "smooth," according to Ernie Banks.