On Saturday, July 19, ballplayers and fans celebrated the rededication of Toni Stone Stadium at St. Paul’s Dunning Fields. Widely acknowledged as a St. Paul sports heroine, Toni Stone (whose original name is Marcenia Lyle Alberga) is touted as one of only a handful of women to play in the Negro Leagues.
The fields are a major community resource, serving as home to adult softball and baseball leagues and a variety of youth softball and baseball events. Through the years, Dunning Fields have played host to many great ballplayers including Joe Mauer, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, and Minnesota Twins broadcaster Jack Morris.
On Saturday, the rededication took place during the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) All Star playoffs. The stadium was originally dedicated to Stone in 1997, but local RBI manager Frank White believes that this is a great time to provide a new dedication. To encourage African-American youth to play baseballl, the rededication was strategically scheduled to draw attention not only to the stadium but to the RBI program. “We’re trying to make a bigger connection and increase awareness of history,” says White.
RBI is a worldwide Major League Baseball initiative for youth ages 13-18. Founded in 1989, the program promotes baseball and softball in inner cities to increase youth self-esteem, encourage academic participation and achievement, promote greater inclusion of minorities into baseball’s mainstream, and teach the value of teamwork.
According to the Negro League Baseball Players Hall of Fame, as a teenager Toni Stone—born in 1931—played with the local boys’ teams in St. Paul. During World War ll she moved to San Francisco and landed a position on the San Francisco Sea Lions, a black, semi-pro barnstorming team: a non-league team that traveled and played whomever was available in each town. In her first appearance at the plate, Stone connected for two RBIs; the rest is history.
Although the All American Girls Baseball League was active at the time, it was a white-only league and Stone was not eligible to play. She eventually went to the New Orleans Creoles—part of the Negro League minors—where she made $300 a month in 1949. In 1953, Syd Pollack, owner of the Indianapolis Clowns, signed Toni to play second base, a position that had been vacated when Hank Aaron was signed by the Boston Braves. Thus, Stone became the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues.
Stone retired in 1954, just as baseball moved toward desegregation; she and her husband moved to California, where she died in 1996. Stone was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and she is honored in two separate sections in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York: the “Women in Baseball” exhibit and the Negro Leagues section.
A bronze plaque with a description and an image of Toni Stone will be mounted at the St. Paul stadium. “I want it to be somewhere that people can read it—she was an inspiration,” says White. “Toni was ahead of her time.”
Betsy Mowry works as an arts administrator with COMPAS and the Arts & Culture Partnership of St. Paul.