CURVEBALL by Martha Ackmann


The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, the First Woman to Play Professional Baseball in the Negro League
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The life and times of a black woman determined to play professional baseball amid the racism and sexism of midcentury America.

To the young Toni Stone (1921–1996), who grew up in St. Paul, Minn., baseball was “like a drug.” It was all she wanted to do, and she was as good, if not better, than most boys. She played where she could and at age 16 began her professional career with the barnstorming Twin City Colored Giants, experiencing the rough-and-tumble life of semi-pro baseball. She also learned to play the game better, and in 1943 she moved to San Francisco to join the prestigious San Francisco Sea Lions. From the Sea Lions she moved on to the New Orleans Creoles, and there faced the daily humiliations of the Jim Crow South. Throughout her early career, Stone also had to prove that she was not a circus sideshow but a player of high skill, and her talents eventually led her to the Negro League, the pinnacle of black baseball. However, times were slowly changing, signaled by Jackie Robinson’s signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and the Negro League was dying. Stone ended her professional career in 1955, but played and coached until her death. Ackmann offers a multilayered narrative, telling the personal story of Stone, bringing to life the joys and frustrations of black baseball and effectively evoking the racial hatred and sexist disdain of the time. Other black players of her era—Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks—went on to greatness in the big leagues, but age and gender denied Stone this chance. She played nonetheless and, as she once said, worked hard to “find the heart of the game.”

Expertly captures Stone’s significant life and the impressive strength of her will.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-55652-796-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Lawrence Hill Books/Chicago Review
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2010