NEW YORK – Playwright Lydia R. Diamond acknowledged she often lost sleep wondering if she gave Toni Stone justice in the play she wrote about the former Negro Leaguer.
On Thursday night, in front of a packed house at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, Diamond learned she could rest easy. Her play, "Toni Stone," was a huge success, which should please the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation, the lead sponsor of the production.
Diamond said she wanted the play to be entertaining, and it was with its great choreography and jokes. Actor April Mathis gave a convincing performance as Stone. But the play left two messages to the audience: Stone was more than just the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues; she was great at her craft. She was good enough to play second base with the Indianapolis Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs. When she joined the Clowns in 1953, Stone was good enough to replace a second baseman named Hank Aaron, who was already in pro ball with the Milwaukee Braves.
The other message was Stone was the female Jackie Robinson. Not only did Stone go through racial discrimination, Stone went through sexual discrimination. Some of her teammates didn’t want her on the team.
Both messages came through clearly. It’s obvious a visit to the Negro League Museum in Kansas City helped the play become successful in the Big Apple.
“The cast came out and immersed themselves in that Negro Leagues museum environment because I think they felt they can draw strength from that story to help them in their portrayal of this particular story,” said Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro League Museum. “The play exceeded my expectation. It was outstanding from start to finish.”
Jean Lee, the executive director of the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development foundation, said it was worth sponsoring the Toni Stone play.
“What an amazing story of character building, perseverance and resiliency,” Lee said “That’s the exact reason the foundation wanted to invest and underwrite this as an educational piece, a story that had to be told.
“It was 100 percent a thoughtful investment. It was a joint effort, which is a beautiful thing to bring the entire industry together of union and league. I know the Commissioner [Robert Manfred] and Tony Clark [executive director of the MLBPA] and everyone on my board were excited about participating in this.”
After her baseball career ended, Stone was a longtime nurse before passing away in 1996 at the age of 75. Kendrick believes if Stone were alive today, she would be pleased with the production.
“Toni Stone would absolutely be proud,” he said. “She is smiling somewhere [in heaven]. She is standing like the rest of us, saying bravo.”