Ackmann's Curveball Receives Peterson Award

Martha Ackmann, author and senior lecturer in gender studies, has been named the co-recipient of the Robert W. Peterson Award for the year’s outstanding book that increased public awareness of Negro League baseball. Ackmann received the award from the Jerry Malloy committee of the Society for American Baseball Research at the organization’s recent conference in Birmingham, Alabama. Ackmann’s new book, Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, the First Woman to Play Professional Baseball in the Negro League, was honored along with Timothy M. Gay’s 2010 book, Satch, Dizzy, and Rapid Robert: The Wild Sage of Interracial Baseball Before Jackie Robinson. 

Curveball chronicles the life of Toni Stone, a second baseman for the championship Indianapolis Clowns and the legendary Kansas City Monarchs. When Henry Aaron moved from the Negro Leagues to the majors, Stone replaced him as the Clowns’ star attraction. During her nearly 20-year career in baseball, she played on barnstorming and semi-pro teams against Hall of Famers including Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, and Ernie Banks. Baseball historians have called Stone the “female Jackie Robinson” and “the best baseball player you’ve never heard of.”

Ackmann said the book is as much about Jim Crow America as it is about baseball and “shows how far passion, pride, and determination can take one person in pursuit of a dream.”

Larry Lester, baseball historian and one of the founders of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, said Ackmann’s book received this year’s Peterson Award both for the excellence of its writing as well as its impressive research. Negro League subjects are always difficult to research, Lester noted, and Toni Stone’s story was all the more challenging. Curveball makes a convincing case, Lester said, for viewing Stone as a pioneer not only of racial equality but gender equity as well. In reviewing the book for Sports Illustrated, columnist Frank Deford said, "Martha Ackmann has lovingly introduced us to someone in baseball whom almost none of us ever knew existed. We should thank her for that introduction to the indomitable Toni Stone and for guiding us to a forgotten place in the sport's history." 

Ackmann’s research for Curveball took her from San Francisco to New Orleans and from Saint Paul to Washington, D.C. “I especially enjoyed talking with so many of Toni’s former teammates,” she said. “I’ll never forget some of the long afternoons I spent in former players’ garages and basements talking baseball. Ernie Banks was particularly helpful to me and we talked about the respect he had for what he called ‘Toni’s struggle.’ He admired Stone for her skill and her courage.”

Ackmann wrote the bulk of the book while she was the 2009 Augustus Anson Whitney Scholar in Non-Fiction at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. She also won a 2008 John Simon Guggenheim fellowship for her project.

The Peterson Award is named for Robert Peterson, whose landmark 1970 book, Only the Ball Was White, is credited with bringing attention to the legacy of racism in baseball and to the history of the Negro Leagues.

Curveball is not the only prize-winning Ackmann book. The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight won the Amelia Earhart Medal for aviation writing and was recognized by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics for its 2004 Media Prize.
Ackmann is already at work on a new book. A long-time scholar of Emily Dickinson, she is turning to the famous poet for her next subject. Vesuvius at Home will examine ten pivotal days in Dickinson’s life. This summer, Ackmann was elected president of the Emily Dickinson International Society in Oxford, England. She teaches a popular fall seminar on the poet in the Dickinson house in Amherst--in the very rooms where Dickinson wrote her verse.