See baseball trailblazer Toni Stone in animated Google Doodle

February 9th, 2022

It’s been a big few years for the legacy of the late Toni Stone, a Negro Leagues second baseman who was the first woman to play regularly in a major American men’s professional sports league.

A play about her career -- called, simply, “Toni Stone” -- debuted off-Broadway in 2019 and has since shown in several U.S. cities. She was recognized by her hometown paper in 2021 with induction into the Star Tribune’s Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame.

On Wednesday, Stone got her most wide-reaching recognition yet, in the form of her very own Google Doodle.

As part of an ongoing celebration of Black History Month, Google is featuring several prominent Black historical figures on its homepage, telling their stories through alterations of the search engine’s iconic logo. The pioneering Stone was depicted by San Francisco-based illustrator and animation director, Monique Wray.

Born in Bluefield, W.V., in 1921 and raised in St. Paul, Stone was a talented multisport athlete who played with barnstorming baseball teams for several years before heading to the Negro American League. She spent two seasons there, joining the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953 (as a replacement for Hank Aaron) and the Kansas City Monarchs in ‘54. In 1993, she was inducted into both the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. Three years later, she passed away at the age of 75.

Although Stone has received her share of accolades, including those recent ones, she isn’t exactly a household name. Wray argues that this relates to who Stone was and the era in which she was active.

“[Stone] being a Black woman, you know that that obviously has something to do with her not getting that sort of shine that she deserved for the significance of who she was and what she did,” said Wray. “But it’s good that now, at least, we’re doing that work and making that push.”

Wray’s Doodle is a short animated loop of Stone making a play at second base. She studied reels of second basemen, images of Stone and footage of mid-century baseball to try and capture what Stone would have looked like in action.

“I got kind of like a passion from photography of her, and just kind of the way she spoke about what she does, and her love of the sport and her love for life,” said Wray of Stone. “So I tried to give [the Doodle] some of that energy.”

As an artist, Wray’s influences include Pixar films like “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” newspaper comic strips like “Calvin & Hobbes,” as well as anime and manga. She launched her own creative studio, Small, in 2018, and has pivoted from the 3D modeling she specialized in early in her career to 2D animation and illustration. Her work has been featured in several ad campaigns, as well as outlets like The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. She describes the style she gravitates to most as “not overly polished,” with a clear human touch.

“Even though my work is largely digital, I still want it to have a handmade feel to it, feel like a person made it, a human made it, not a computer,” said Wray.

This is Wray’s second Google Doodle, her first being featured as part of Teacher Appreciation Week in May 2021. Wray described getting to do a Google Doodle as a “bucket list” item for her, and notes that the excitement hasn’t waned from the first time to the second. In fact, in some ways, this one -- both because this is a solo venture rather than a collaborative one, and because of the subject matter.

How was she feeling ahead of the launch of the Stone Google Doodle?

“Appreciation,” Wray said. “For being a little girl who wants to make art for a living, and growing up and doing that in such a large way, and being commissioned to do something on such a large platform, that’s also meaningful -- speaking about who Toni Stone is. It feels full circle, for sure.”