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Shakeia Taylor: How Toni Stone, the 1st woman to play professional baseball, came to be featured in ‘MLB: The Show ’24’

Sony Interactive Entertainment/TNS/TNS

CHICAGO — One of baseball’s greatest myths is that of Toni Stone hitting a single off pitching great Satchel Paige.

Born Marcenia Lyle Stone, but originally nicknamed Tom Boy due to her affinity for wearing pants and playing baseball with the neighborhood boys, Stone later adopted the name Toni professionally.

When she signed a contract in 1953 with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League, Stone became the first woman to play in a men’s professional league. She filled Henry Aaron’s second base position after he joined the Milwaukee Braves.

In “MLB: The Show ’24,” Stone makes history again — this time as the first female player to be featured in the popular video game. She will appear along with 10 new Negro League legends in the game’s playable micro-documentary, “Storylines: The Negro Leagues Season 2,” narrated by Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick. The game is scheduled for release March 19.

At launch, “Storylines 2” will include Hank Aaron, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Stone. The next set of three Negro Leagues players will arrive in a content drop in early April and the last three players will arrive at the end of May.

“It’s the first time a woman has ever been in any baseball game, I think, but certainly ours. We treated Toni with the same respect and reverence we did everyone else,” Ramone Russell told the Chicago Tribune.

Russell, a product development communications and brand strategist at Sony Interactive Entertainment, was key in helping build the brand’s relationship with Kendrick and NLBM in creating the feature. “Storylines” is the second in a multiyear partnership between Sony and the museum. The feature attempts to bring the Negro Leagues to life and further their shared mission to “educate, enlighten and inspire.”

When Season 1 was created, Russell found inspiration in Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” For the latest installment, James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World” plays when Stone’s story begins. The song, one of Russell’s favorites, is “the perfect song to represent Toni Stone,” he said.

In July 1953, a headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune announcing Stone and the Clowns coming to Comiskey Park to play a doubleheader against the Kansas City Monarchs read “Girl To Play For Clowns In Games Today.”

The article describes Stone as one of the “main attractions,” but goes on to say her “presence in the lineup is not alone for the purpose of luring fans to the ballpark, she has proved a real value to the Negro champions.”

Stone’s baseball career began in Minneapolis where she grew up and played with the Twin Cities Colored Giants, New Orleans Creoles and the Clowns before her contract was sold to the Kansas City Monarchs in 1954.

After a single season with the Monarchs, Stone retired from professional baseball. She hit .243 over her two seasons in the Negro American League.

Stone, the first of the three women to play Negro League baseball, was brought to life in the video game in new ways. With her addition, Sony made production changes to “make sure that Toni looks and feels right,” Russell said.

One of the changes Stone’s inclusion brought to the game was how her hair was depicted.

“We’ve never had hair dynamics before, but Toni had a longer hairstyle. Her hair has to move. As a woman, your hair moves when you walk around,” Russell said. “But not only does Toni benefit from that, all of the players benefit from it. So all of our longer hairstyles now have hair dynamics. And that’s just one of the many ways that our work on ‘Storylines’ has really bled to other areas of the game to improve them. It’s kind of odd that it took us adding a woman to get hair dynamics but I guess that’s just how it is, women make the world better.”

Another important detail in honoring Stone is her signature earrings. In photos, Stone was always pictured wearing pearl studs. Maria Bartlow, her niece, and Bartlow’s daughter, Monica Franks, were both heavily involved in the process and thought the earrings were significant in staying true to who Stone was.

“I just wanted to make sure they knew she was genuine. She was a tomboy but she liked her pearl earrings,” Franks said. “She was very proactive about ‘she can dress up but she can play hard.’ ”

Bartlow remembers her aunt as someone who handled everything “with a grin and a laugh.”

The two say Stone, who relocated to California after her playing career ended, was a San Francisco Giants fan. The only times they remember her talking about baseball much was when Stone would sit in her basement and listen to a Giants game on the radio. When friends were over to listen with her, Stone would briefly open up about her love of the game and her playing time.

Stone died in 1996 at age 75. For many years, her impact on baseball was largely unknown. But with the recent emphasis on Negro Leagues history by Major League Baseball, historians and others, her story is being highlighted.

Bartlow and Franks are eager for a new audience to learn the story of their pioneering aunt and are grateful another generation will get to see her the way they do: a strong woman who played with the men and held her own.

Said Bartlow: “She would always let (the men) know, ‘you can throw as hard as you want, but I’ll be here.’ ”