A couple of weeks ago, I spoke on an authors’ panel at the Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues Baseball Conference. The conference is sponsored by a committee of the Society for American Baseball Research. SABR is an organization of more than 6,700 authors, historians, players and officials who are interested in the social significance of the sport. This year’s Negro Leagues Baseball gathering took place in Birmingham, Alabama and I was honored to join writers Timothy Gay and Brian Carroll to talk about researching and writing baseball books.
Not surprisingly, all of us on the panel spoke of the challenges facing authors who write about Negro League baseball: finding statistics, tracking down former players, giving full attention to not only the game, but the depth of racism players faced. No one who writes about Negro League baseball can ignore the larger story of racism and Jim Crow America that permeates that history. Racism was as much as part of the game as box scores.
While attending the conference I was lucky to have my Curveball book signing table set up next to Tony Lloyd’s memorabilia booth. Lloyd played second base for the Birmingham Black Barons in the late 1950s. He grew up in Fairfield, Alabama, a town that also gave rise to the San Francisco Giants‘ Willie Mays. Lloyd went to Tuskegee Institute and played for the Tuskegee Tigers, and after he graduated, he signed at age twenty-three with the Black Barons.
Lloyd played for the Barons four years after Toni Stone left the Negro League to return home to Oakland. Even though they didn’t compete against each other, he remembers watching Stone play when he was growing up. She was a serious athlete, he remembered. “She was no joke.” As that late Saturday afternoon in Birmingham wore on, Tony and I had a chance to talk about his traveling with Negro League teams, playing in the final years before the league’s demise and what qualities–athletic and personal–make for a good second baseman.
I’ve always wondered about second basemen. Toni Stone was a second baseman for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953 and later the Kansas City Monarchs. When she was growing up, she had played every position on a team and the only spot she disliked was catcher. While behind the plate, she once was knocked unconscious and after that thumping, she vowed to leave catching alone. By the time she was in her late teens, Stone had settled into second base. She played the keystone sack until she finally retired in her mid sixties from playing recreational baseball.
The Atlanta Braves’ Henry Aaron once said that there was no logical reason women shouldn’t play baseball. “It’s not that tough,” he said. “Some women can play better than a lot of guys who’ve been on the field. Baseball is not a game of strength.” Aaron went on to say that when a woman enters the major leagues (he didn’t say if), she would probably be a second baseman.
With former Birmingham Black Barons second baseman Tony Lloyd sitting right next to me at the conference, I decided to ask a question that has been puzzling me for years. What is there about second base that might lead Aaron and others to think it’s a perfect position for a woman athlete playing on a men’s team.
Tony thought about it. “Well, you don’t have to throw as far,” he said, noting that a throw from second to first or third was not the long-distance hurl across the diamond that a shortstop or third baseman make. Playing second base takes skill, Tony was quick to add, but it doesn’t require the hard throw of other infielders. Lloyd started off with the Birmingham Black Barons as a shortstop, but he switched to second base when he realized he could make the throw to first much better and more accurately from second. Plus it’s a “soft position,” he said, “not as rough.”
But besides the quick hands and precision throws, I wondered, what the real difference between second basemen and other players? Tony laughed. “Second basemen don’t have to be the mean cusses that pitchers and catchers have to be.”
No mean cusses. Maybe that’s the reason the affable Toni Stone ended up on second base.