The TV show Pitch, about the first woman playing in the major leagues got canceled. Am I the only one who loved it? The Pitch protag was a pitcher. Toni Stone, the subject of this biography played second base. She probably could have been an Olympic sprinter or excelled in just about any sport that existed for women, but her true love was baseball. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League wouldn't let her try out, so men's baseball it was.
Stone played pro-ball with mean from the time she was a teenager. She was signed with the Negro Leagues Indianapolis Clowns in 1953 more for the novelty of having a woman on the team than for her talent. This was in the days after Blacks integrated the Majors, and the Negro Leagues were failing. She might have racked up a more impressive record if she were not platooned with a male player and allowed more at-bats.
Curveball has a bibliography, index, and endnotes, but Ackmann manages to keep the writing accessible to a non-academic reader. It's not the smoothest read, and there are extraneous details that are interesting, but don't move the story along. I wish the baseball writing was more solid, but as Ackmann reports, Negro League newspaper accounts and statistics keeping were spotty. Ackmann did have access to Toni Stone, but late in Stone's life, when her accounts were also spotty.
The Clowns had their own policy when it came to bigoted "partway" table service in border towns. They knew waiters and waitresses would not overtly refuse them but would ignore the team, so they devised the "three strikes and you're out" rule. After waiting for five minutes or more for service, players would flag down a waiter. "In a minute," the waiter would say: strike one. More time would pass and another attempt would be made to get some attention. "Be right there," was the reply: strike two. After more time passed with more neglect from the waitstaff, one final attempt would be made. "Coming, coming," a waiter would respond: strike three. That's when the Clowns would gather up the silverware, pocket the utensils, and walk out the door. Later, when the team reached their favorite black hotel in Indianapolis, they would present the owner with gifts of Jim Crow table service.
Ackmann delves into the racism and sexism in Stone's life. The former, more than the latter, either because racism affected Stone more, or because Ackmann had less information on the sexism Stone faced. Stone married a man forty years her senior (and only outlasted him by ten). Mr. Elvis, the friend who recommended this book to me, and I were wondering if Stone was gay, but Curveball offers no hint of any romantic attachments in Stone's life, including to her husband, to whom she was devoted, but not necessarily sexy with.
Ackmann is a gender studies professor at Mt. Holyoke and thanks three of her library colleagues by name, as well as a half a dozen students from both Mt. Holyoke and Harvard, from when she did research at the Radcliffe Institute.