Before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, there had not been a Black player in Major League Baseball since the 1890s. Black baseball players migrated to the Negro Leagues, and they were joined by a few Black women who were also shunned by White-only leagues.
In the 1992 film, “A League of their Own,” starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, and Rosie O’Donnell, there were not any Black characters in the movie. That was because the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, like Major League Baseball, did not allow Black players.
There were no all-female baseball leagues for Black women, so Toni Stone, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, and Connie Morgan, wanted to find a league where they could play ball. And that league was with their own people.
The signing of Hank Aaron to the Boston Braves in 1951, left a hole in the infield of Indianapolis Clowns if the the Negro League. Stone seemed be the player for the job. The team signed her, making stone the first Black woman to play in the Negro Leagues.
Stone grew up in St. Paul, Minn., where she played with a local boys baseball team, and she later moved to San Francisco, where she played semi pro barnstorming baseball for an American Legion team. In her first at-bat with the San Francisco Sea Lions, she drove in two runs.
Stone was not welcomed with open arms by the men in the Negro Leagues, who felt that a woman should not be allowed to play with them. She took it as an honor, when she showed off scars on her wrist when male players tried to spike her while sliding into second base.
“They didn’t mean any harm and in their way they liked me,” Stone is quoted as saying. “Just that I wasn’t supposed to be there. They’d tell me to go home and fix my husband some biscuits or any damn thing. Just get the hell away from here.”
Stone was not allowed in the locker room, and usually dressed in the umpire’s locker room. She was asked to wear a skirt while playing, but she refused to do it.
Even with the struggles that Stone faced, she still held her own, batting .243 during the 1954 season, and one of the hits was off of the legendary Satchel Paige.
“He was so good,” Stone remembered. “That he’d ask batters where they wanted it, just so they’d have a chance. He’d ask, ‘You want it high? You want it low? You want it right in the middle? Just say.’ People still couldn’t get a hit against him. So, I get up there and he says, ‘Hey, T, how do you like it?’ And I said, ‘It doesn’t matter just don’t hurt me.’ When he wound up, he had these big old feet, all you could see was his shoe. I stood there shaking, but I got a hit. Right out over second base. Happiest moment in my life.”
In 1985, Stone was inducted into the Women’s Sports Foundation’s International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, and she is showcased in two exhibits at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Mamie “Peanut” Johnson was the first female pitcher in the Negro Leagues, when she was also signed by the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953. She recorded a 33-8 win-loss record and batted .273 over her career.
Johnson only stood 5’3”, which was why she was called “Peanut.” She played baseball everyday growing up in Ridgeway, S.C., and she continued to play while attending New York University. She too was rejected by the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
“If I had played with White girls, I would have been just another player, but now I am somebody who has done something that no other woman has done,” Johnson is quoted as saying.
After being spotted practicing on a baseball field in Washington, D.C., Johnson was given a tryout with the Clowns, and she instantly made the team.
During Johnson’s first game, an opposing batter yelled out to her:“What makes you think you can strike a batter out? Why, you aren’t any larger than a peanut!”
Johnson struck the batter out in three pitches, without saying a word to him.
Connie Morgan became the third woman to play in the Negro Leagues, also with theClowns. She was signed to replace Stone, who was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs.
Morgan played two seasons with the Clowns and then five seasons with the North Philadelphia Honey Drippers, an all-women baseball team, where she batted .368.