Behind The Scenes

SportsCenter, OTL to feature baseball pioneer Toni Stone’s unique story

Toni Stone played second base for the Indianapolis Clowns and Kansas City Monarchs and was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, Long Island, N.Y. in 1993.

In an effort to tell a good story, you have to think Outside the Lines.

OTL (3 p.m. ET weekdays, 9 a.m. Sundays) unearthed a gem from baseball’s past to tell the story of Toni Stone. Thanks to movies like A League of Their Own, the general public is aware of professional female baseball players. However, little is known about the three black women who played baseball with men in the Negro League.

Stone was the first female to break that barrier. Her story, narrated by Jeremy Schaap, is scheduled to air on SportsCenter on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 10 a.m. and on OTL on Tuesday, Feb. 28. It will be available on ESPN online platforms after it airs on SportsCenter. You can watch an excerpt in the clip below, featuring author Martha Ackmann — who profiled Stone in the book Curveball — and Mamie Johnson, the second woman to play in the Negro Leagues.

Front Row spoke with feature producer Tina Cerbone about the work involved in telling Stone’s story.

FR: Was this feature part of ESPN’s Black History Month programming or was it already in the works?
The Cross Platform News Gathering Unit was made aware a few months ago that Curveball, a book about Toni Stone, had recently been published. After looking into her story, we thought it would be a make a good feature in support of Black History Month.

FR: How were you able to pull all of the pieces together for this feature?
I have been doing a lot of research over the last few months, off and on, while I was producing other features. I called a number of different photo archive houses, historical societies, footage houses, as well as searched our own archives at ESPN and networked with fellow producers for thoughts and ideas as to where to find information and footage. The author of Curveball, Martha Ackmann, was an invaluable resource. She spent more than two- and-a-half years researching about Toni and was able to share a number of her findings as well as sit down with us for an interview.

Honestly, a lot of the pieces came together in the last three weeks when I began working on it full time. I was able to locate actual footage of Toni during her Indianapolis Clowns (Negro League) days. Martha gave me the information for Toni’s niece and I was finally able to get in contact with her. She lived with her aunt for a number of years and has some incredible insight into struggles Toni went through. Due to the time constraint of trying to get this piece done in time for Black History Month, two other producers have been involved in assisting on shoots for this piece, Christopher Bloxom and Michael O’Connor.

FR: Has this story ever been told before?
Major League Baseball did a feature on This Week in Baseball in 1992. We are using the interview from that feature in our piece. I was able to locate that piece and the actual interview. It is a great addition because the viewer gets to hear from Toni herself.

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