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January 2012, Week 4

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Thu, 26 Jan 2012 20:03:00 -0500
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Bill Mardo, Writer Who Pushed Baseball to Integrate, Dies at
88

By Richard Goldstein

New York Times
Published: January 24, 2012

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/25/sports/baseball/bill-mardo-writer-who-pushed-baseball-to-integrate-dies-at-88.html?_r=1

Bill Mardo, a sportswriter for the Communist Party newspaper
The Daily Worker who fought major league baseball's color
barrier in the 1940s when the mainstream American news media
was largely silent on the subject, died Friday in Manhattan.
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, Mr. 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.

Mr. Mardo, who joined The Daily Worker in 1942, oversaw its
sports coverage, together with Nat Low, during World War II,
when Mr. Rodney was in the Army. Mr. 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 Dodger general
manager, two months earlier.

Mr. 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, Mr.
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, Mr. Rodney
and Mr. 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
color 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."

Mr. Mardo was born William Bloom in Manhattan on Oct. 24,
1923. His interest in left-wing politics arose when he read
a copy of The Daily Worker as a teenager, and he became a
member of the Communist Party. He changed his name to Mardo
as a tribute to his sisters Marion and Doris when he began
his career in journalism.

Apart from reporting on baseball, Mr. Mardo wrote a boxing
column for The Daily Worker, "In This Corner." He left the
newspaper to work as a Washington reporter for the Soviet
news agency Tass in the early 1950s. He later worked in
direct-mail advertising.

His marriage in the 1950s ended in divorce, and he had no
children.

In April 1997, Mr. Mardo and Mr. Rodney (who died in 2009)
spoke at a symposium at Long Island University's Brooklyn
campus marking the 50th anniversary of Robinson's debut with
the Dodgers.

Mr. Mardo noted that Rickey had not signed blacks when he
ran the St. Louis Cardinals for more than two decades and
suggested it was not idealism but pressure from black
sportswriters, trade unions and the Communist Party that
persuaded him to sign Robinson.

"Where were you looking all those years, Mr. Rickey?" Mr.
Mardo said. "Istanbul? The South Seas?"

But on April 10, 1947, when the Dodgers announced they were
bringing up Robinson from Montreal, Mr. Mardo, sitting in
the Ebbets Field press box, could only exult.

"There's time tomorrow to remember that the good fight goes
on," he wrote for the next day's Daily Worker. "But, for
today, let's just sit back and feel easy and warm. As that
fellow in the press box said, `Robinson's a Dodger' - and
it's a great day, isn't it?"

===

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