Toni Stone was the first woman to play professional baseball for the Negro Leagues and was considered to be the “female Jackie Robinson” of baseball. She was often described as “the best baseball player you’ve never heard of,” according to Dr. Martha Ackmann.
“I would like to ask the question of why you don’t know much about Toni Stone?” Dr. Martha Ackmann said. “What not knowing about her says a lot about how we construct history and what gets left in, and what, more importantly, gets left out.”
Dr. Martha Ackmann was honored as this year’s Jolyon Pitt Girard Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence. She appeared to speak at Widener Center on Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 6:30 p.m., about her newest book, “Curveball,” which highlights the life and history of Toni Stone.
“One of the reasons we picked her [Ackmann] was not only because of her reputation, but because we were convinced that she would communicate well with the students,” Dr. Jolyon Girard, professor emeritus of history, said.
That is exactly what Ackmann did. She discussed about why she wrote the book in the first place, who Toni Stone was and the challenges she faced in writing the book.
“I had heard about this woman Toni Stone who had once played professional baseball but that’s about it,” Ackmann said.
Ackmann hoped when researching Stone, this story would fit into David Halberstam’s category of being a story about a talented athlete, that would shed light on what it means to be an American.
“Every great sports story is also the story of a nation,” Ackmann said.
When Ackmann found out Stone played at Yankee Stadium, this really left an impression of her. The image of the African American female player was truly powerful in her eyes, which caused her to dig deeper on this untold story.
“I checked The New York Times about that game, checked other sources and there was nothing about it,” Ackmann said. “It was as if she never played in that game, although I knew she had.”
Not being able to look up information about Stone concerned her. She wondered what was considered worthy of getting saved in The New York Times in 1953. She knew the references she needed was going to be a difficult to obtain.
Ackmann explained the difficulties she had while writing the book, as well as the hardships Toni Stone went through, which is one of the reasons she wrote the book.
Through extensive research Ackmann began to piece together the important parts of Stone’s life. She started unraveling her story almost a decade after Stone died in 1996.
“She loved nothing more than baseball,” Ackmann said. “Toni wanted to be who she was, what she knew herself to be.”
After Stone left baseball, it would take another two decades and the achievement of the American civil rights movement to begin to have her history recorded in text books.
“Who gets left in and who gets left out, is a much as political act as it is an intellectual or historical one,” Ackmann said.
This year is the 40th anniversary of Title 9, the federal legislation that ensures equity in sports, and Ackmann wants us as a society to think about a few things:
“Think about the legacy of Toni Stone and what she represents. About how far purpose and perseverance and determination can take you.”