Bill Mardo, a sportswriter for the Communist Party newspaper The Daily Worker who fought major league baseball’s colour barrier in the 1940s when the mainstream U.S. news media was largely silent on the subject, died Jan. 20 in New York. He was 88.
The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, his companion, Ruth Ost, said.
In the years before the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson as the first black player in modern organized baseball, Mardo was a leading voice in a campaign by The Daily Worker against racism in the game, a battle it had begun in 1936 when Lester Rodney became its first sports editor.
Mardo, who joined The Daily Worker in 1942, oversaw its sports coverage, together with Nat Low, during the Second World War, when Rodney was in the Army. Mardo had a deferment, having lost vision in one eye from a childhood virus.
The Daily Worker asked fans to write to the New York City baseball teams urging them to sign Negro league players at a time when the major leagues had lost much of their talent to military service. A milestone in baseball history and the civil rights movement arrived in October 1945 when Robinson signed a contract with the Dodgers’ organization, having reached an agreement with Branch Rickey, the Dodgers’ general manager, two months earlier.
Mardo covered Robinson’s first spring training, with the Dodgers’ Montreal Royals farm team in 1946, and wrote of the hostility toward him in parts of segregated Florida.
As Robinson was concluding a brilliant 1946 season, Mardo wrote that racism would be smashed by the arrival of black players, which, he said, “in one fell swoop does as much to arm and educate the American people against this monstrous lie as do all the pamphlets in the world.”
After Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers in 1947, Rodney and Mardo called on the owners of the other 15 teams in the majors to sign black players.
Rickey had not acknowledged being pressured by The Daily Worker. But in recounting the campaign to shatter baseball’s colour bar, Arnold Rampersad wrote in Jackie Robinson: A Biography (1997) that “the most vigorous efforts came from the Communist press, including picketing, petitions and unrelenting pressure for about 10 years in The Daily Worker, notably from Lester Rodney and Bill Mardo.”
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