Book Review of Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, by Martha Ackmann

Happy National Girls and Women in Sports Day! In addition to that, we're midway through the first week of Black History Month! These two things together make today a perfect day for a review of a book I read recently, which I would wholeheartedly recommend to you all. Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, the First Woman to Play Professional Baseball in the Negro League, by Martha Ackmann, is an excellent biography of Toni Stone and a fascinating view into the history of Negro League baseball in the mid-1940s through 1950s.

The book starts in Ms. Stone's young childhood and follows her closely through her retirement from baseball in 1954. It also describes some details of her later life. However, the main focus of the book is on her playing career, both amateur and professional. The overarching theme throughout is Ms. Stone's love for the game. From her childhood playing on a church team, to her semi-pro years with the St. Paul Giants, to her experiences on Negro League teams including the San Francisco Sea Lions, the Indianapolis Clowns, and the Kansas City Monarchs, Ms. Stone endured constant discouragement and mistreatment as a Black woman who wanted to play baseball. But she never gave up on the game she loved. Even after her retirement, the book describes her coaching and playing with amateur teams in local parks near her home.

In spite of her passion and talent for baseball, Ms. Stone had to fight for playing time and fair compensation every step of her career. One of the most poignant details of the book was the disconnect between the way the teams advertised her, and her actual experiences. The owners told local newspapers that they were paying her thousands of dollars to play, when in reality she was getting a fraction of what they reported. They also billed her as a star of the diamond, when the way they treated her as an employee did not reflect any kind of star status. It was often difficult for the men on the Negro League teams to find road accommodations given the status of segregation; for Ms. Stone, it was even harder, since the male players often found places to sleep that would accept Black men but not a woman. Eventually Ms. Stone discovered that she could find lodging in brothels in the cities her team traveled to, making friends with the women working there and becoming able to depend on their hospitality. Having to scrounge for a place to sleep may be sadly typical at times for some of today's underpaid minor leaguers, but it would be unheard of today for an MLB player receiving top billing and bringing in big crowds to have to deal with these types of living conditions.

The uncertainty and instability she faced on the road, as well as within the organizations that employed her, cannot have been easy for Ms. Stone to bear. But even at the end of her career, as the integration of the MLB threatened the future of the Negro Leagues, and as the introduction of other female players such as Mamie "Peanut" Johnson and Connie Morgan threatened Ms. Stone's place on her own team (due to the owners' view of female players mainly as gimmicks to bring in audiences, rather than individual players with value), Ms. Stone always pushed for fair opportunities to play as she deserved. When she ultimately retired in 1954, it had more to do with the lack of playing time her manager was giving her than with any desire to quit the game of baseball.

The text is clearly non-fiction/history rather than novelization, which I preferred for this type of topic. In particular, when white women write about Black women, a novelization style provides far too much leeway to veer into sensationalization and/or exploitation (see: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks). Martha Ackmann is an excellent journalist-historian known for her earlier book on a group of female astronauts, The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight. But Ackmann, though she is white, depicts Ms. Stone and the figures in her life with consistent respect, without falling into stereotypes or tropes about African-Americans. The author/narrator's voice is minimal to nonexistent throughout, rightly allowing the facts about Ms. Stone's life to speak for themselves.

One adaptation of Ackmann's book is already in the works, a play by Lydia R. Diamond, an award-winning Black playwright and professor known for previous works including The Bluest Eye and Smart People. The Ackmann biography is a fascinating read on its own, but it is even more encouraging to know that it is providing others with source material to create different types of media based on Toni Stone's story, and to ensure that Ms. Stone's commitment to the game of baseball against all odds is not forgotten.

You can find Curveball on Amazon here, or at your favorite independent bookstore or local library!

Read it? Have an opinion? Email us at or @restinpitchface on Twitter to share your thoughts!

The Chapman Deal: Nats Fans, Don’t Let This Go

If you pay any attention to baseball news, by now you’ve heard that closer Aroldis Chapman was traded from the Yankees to the Cubs, in exchange for four Cubs players including one of their top prospects. You probably know that the Nationals were in the mix as well, and that they are disappointed they didn’t get him. And you almost definitely know about Chapman’s 30-game suspension for an incident of domestic violence in which he choked his girlfriend, shoved her up against a wall, and fired eight shots into the wall of his garage. He admitted to firing the shots, but has largely downplayed the incident. For Nats fans who care about what their players do off the field, the news that we didn’t get him came as a relief. He’s going to Chicago, he won’t be on our team, great, move on, that’s it.

Nats fans, that’s not it.

For one thing, the Nats wanted him. Dusty Baker has worked with him in the past in Cincinnati, and in fact made some pretty questionable comments defending him back in December when the news about the domestic violence case first broke. Even now that Chapman has admitted to at least some of the incident, including the gunshots, the Nats still went after him this month. The reason we don’t have to see Chapman wearing the Curly W tomorrow has nothing to do with his actions; it ultimately came down to the fact that the asking price was too high. Back in December, the Dodgers passed on him after getting close to a deal because they didn’t want to be associated with the domestic violence case. The Nats, and many other teams, clearly had no such qualms. From the team’s perspective, we didn’t dodge a bullet here - we missed out.

Many fans are claiming that since Chapman has served his suspension, the incident should no longer be an issue. Even his new manager doesn’t seem to be all that concerned. But simply serving a suspension does not erase the fact that Chapman clearly has problems with violence. The new MLB policy also includes treatment and intervention for players who have committed acts of domestic violence. However, Chapman’s continuing lack of demonstrated contrition shows that he has not yet reached a point where he understands why his actions were so wrong. Until he shows he has reached that point, fans and clubs have every reason to remain concerned about how he may act in the future - and in fact how he may be acting now behind closed doors, given the high rates of repeat offenses in domestic violence cases.

But he’s playing for the Cubs now, so why do we care?

Because this is a problem that exists all across baseball, and throughout professional sports. José Reyes is playing for the Mets in our own NL East. He was given a hero’s welcome by the team and by many fans and reporters after the Mets obtained him at a discount following his suspension for grabbing his wife by the throat and shoving her into a glass door. Oh, but those are just Mets fans, right? They’re all jerks anyway. Nats fans would never act like that… Or would we? We want to win a World Series title as much as anybody. It’s amazing what people will forgive in the name of winning a game.

So what can we do? He’s not on our team. We don’t work for Major League Baseball. Where do we start? A few basic suggestions:

-Speak out. Many reporters and other sports-related personalities are downplaying the issue. Use social media, article comments, and other methods of feedback to respectfully but firmly let them know that what they’re doing is unacceptable.

-Do the same with your friends. Domestic violence as an issue is handled poorly by many otherwise well-meaning people (see above re: the quotes from Dusty). It may be easier to let comments slide. But silence is compliance. Whenever you can, try to start a conversation about it instead. You might not change everyone’s mind, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change anyone’s.

-If you are able, consider donating to your local domestic violence-related charities. Here are some ideas for national organizations that accept donations. Some of them are looking for objects other than money, such as used cell phones.

-Elevate the voices of survivors of domestic violence, as well as those sports reporters who are writing about the issue constructively (some of whom are domestic violence survivors themselves). Players such as Josh Donaldson who grew up with the effects of domestic violence and have spoken about their experiences are crucial here as well.

-Don’t stop talking about it just because Chapman won’t be wearing a Nats uniform any time soon. It’s tempting to let it go - out of sight, out of mind, right? Don’t. We can do better than that. We need to do better than that.

If you have feedback or questions, please contact us through the ask box, on Twitter, or via email. This is a sensitive issue, so we welcome commentary and criticism that is presented respectfully. Deliberately inflammatory comments will be ignored. This was originally posted at the Resting Pitchface Tumblr. 

Just how close to perfect is Max Scherzer?

Of course, there’s no such thing as close to perfect. Either you throw a perfecto or you don’t. But Max flirted with it again tonight, with no baserunners allowed until Addison Russell hit a solo homer with one out in the 6th. Max would ultimately allow one other hit and no other runs through 7 innings to earn the win against the Cubs.

According to Mark Zuckerman, in 47 starts for the Nats, Max has now carried a no-hitter into at least the 6th inning… 7 times.

Two of those, of course, were his two actual no-hitters. In both no-hitters, Max was painfully close to perfect. That first would-be perfecto ended with the HBP heard round the world - which FP, and some of us, are still inclined to ignore and call it a perfect game, since Tabata totally leaned into it. But sadly baseball doesn’t work that way.

In the second no-no, it was a perfecto but for the grace of Yunel Escobar, with the only two baserunners coming on an Escobar error in the 6th followed by a fielder’s choice. Funnily enough, the baserunner who reached on that fielder’s choice was Daniel Murphy.

In fact, before each of the no-hitters, Max had sort of a “warm-up” start in his preceding game (and can anyone tell me what foreshadowing is….?) On September 28th vs. the Reds, Max allowed three baserunners on walks, but kept a no-hitter going until one out in the 8th. And on June 14th (a year ago tomorrow), Max was perfect until the seventh, when Carlos Gomez blooped the one Brewers hit of the game.

What does all that mean, other than that Max Scherzer, when he’s in control, is really really in control? Given that Max has functionally been one batter away from a perfect game twice now (since the second baserunner in his no-hitter against the Mets only happened because of the previous error), maybe the third time will be the charm. And given how he looked tonight - not that different from how he looked in those “warm-up” starts on September 28th and June 14th - everybody might want to tune in five days from now.


Want to hear more like this? Check out our inaugural podcast here and be sure to follow us on twitter! This was originally posted on the Resting Pitchface Tumblr.