Bill Mardo, sportswriter who pushed for integrating baseball, dies at 89

Bill Mardo, a longtime sportswriter for "The Daily Worker" and one of the leading voices for integrating baseball in the 1940s, died Jan. 20 at 89.

Mardo’s efforts, along with other Jewish colleagues at the Communist newspaper, wrote columns and articles over a course of years that many have credited with creating the moral case for opening Major League baseball to African Americans. In the new book, Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball, Temple University’s Rebecca T. Alpert wrote that the campaign to convince Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey to integrate the team was initiated by Mardo. In a review of the book, Edward Shapiro wrote:

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The heroes of this book are Lester Rodney, Nat Low, and Bill Mardo…The three, Alpert writes, exhibited “the only consistent and fundamentally moral stance against segregation,” had “access to the white baseball power structure,” and used their “political skills” and contacts to other political radicals to mount an effective grassroots campaign against segregation in the national pastime. They were, she argues, indispensable in integrating major league baseball in 1947.

Sportswriter and blogger Gary Toms, wrote that he got to know Mardo when he was volunteering at a Manhattan senior care facility. In a loving tribute, Toms wrote that he was “ catapulted into a state of awe” to learn that Mardo pressed the Young Communist League to start a sports page as a way to fight segregation in baseball:

His powerful prose and scathing attacks on segregation and racism, in both society and professional sports, eventually caught the attention of another columnist named Lester Rodney. Rodney was the sports editor for the "Daily Worker", the Communist Party U.S.A.’s newspaper. In 1937, Rodney and the publication launched a personal crusade against segregation and racism in professional sports through a series of news stories and columns. Mardo brought his take-no-prisoners style of writing to the publication in 1942, and Robinson was signed to the Dodgers five years later. This "Dynamic Duo of Desegregation" helped change the course of history and sports journalism.

In an interview decades later, Mardo said:

In 1997, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Jackie signing onto the (Brooklyn) Dodgers. That event shouldn’t have had to be commemorated because racism shouldn’t have had to be overcome in order for a black player to be on the team. If a guy was good enough to come to the bigs, he should’ve been able to be signed on automatically.

A couple of generations have grown up knowing only complete integration in sports. I think youngsters today would be shocked to think of pro teams without people of color on them. They would say exactly what we said back then: ‘You’re kidding me! You’re leaving out — from the get-go — far too many great athletes as prospects! It’s not good for the teams and it’s not fair to the athletes as Americans.

After Jackie Robinson became Major League baseball’s first black player, he and Mardo became friends.

Mardo was born William Bloom in Manhattan and grew up in foster families in Brooklyn. One article described his Mardo’s participation in a boxing club: "Bill told me he was in a match and hit another kid with a solid punch, and he went down ‘like he was shot,’ as Bill put it….The kid didn’t get up fast, which shocked and scared Bill, and he realized he didn’t have the stomach to be a boxer." Mardo stopped boxing but wrote about the sport in a column titled, "In This Corner."

His interest in left-wing politics began when he read The Daily Worker as a teenager and then joined the Communist Party. He changed his name to Mardo as a tribute to his sisters Marion and Doris. Mardo joined The Daily Worker in 1942. He had a military deferment in World War II, having lost vision in one eye from a childhood virus.

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.

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org.

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