After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, the remaining Negro League team owners needed to find a way to support their teams and encourage viewership. When Hank Aaron left the Indianapolis Clowns for the Braves in 1952, owner Syd Pollock came up with a plan.
Toni Stone replaced Aaron at second base, becoming the first woman to play in the league. Though Pollock’s aim was originally to attract fans, Ray Doswell, curator at the Negro Leagues Museum, told the MLB, “They found a real athlete in Toni Stone.”
Later that year, Pollock recruited Connie Morgan, who eventually replaced Stone at second base. According to The Hardball Times, Gil Hodges told Brooklyn Dodgers teammate Jackie Robinson, “She throws, hits, and fields like no girl I’ve ever seen.”
Mamie “Peanut” Johnson was the third woman to join the Clowns in 1953. Johnson was a starting pitcher and some archives indicate she had a record of 33-8 across three seasons. The Negro League Baseball Museum notes Johnson said, “Just to know that you were among some of the best male ballplayers that ever picked up the bat, made all of my baseball moments great moments.”
Several women owned teams, including Effa Manley and Olivia Taylor. Manely, general manager, bookkeeper, and publicist for the Newark Eagles in the 1940s, used her position to advocate for civil rights by hosting Anti-Lynching days at the ballpark and boycotting establishments that would not hire African Americans.
While Manley is the best-known female owner, Taylor owned the Indianapolis ABCs two decades earlier in the 1920s. After taking over the team when her husband died, Taylor faced sexism and doubt from her brother-in-law and other club owners. Despite the challenges, Taylor managed the team for three seasons.
Dr. Leslie Heaphy, Professor of History at Kent State, notes on US Sports History that the records of Black female owners become more extensive as more research is completed.
Things were not always easy for the three players. After Stone’s break-out season, she was denied hotel rooms, fair playing time on the Kansas City Monarchs, and was sexually harassed on the Monarch’s bus. The media pitted Stone and Morgan against each other and often made comments about the three womens’ supposed fragility and inability to contribute to the team.
However, Johnson herself has helped correct the story. At a Negro Leagues reunion, Johnson asserted that Satchel Paige did not teach her to throw a curveball, but merely helped her perfect it.
“I knew how to throw it,” Johnson smirked.
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