Bill Mardo, sportswriter for the Daily Worker newspaper, died last week. His NY Times obituary notes his column’s crusading role in pressing for the racial integration of Major League Baseball in the 1940’s.
“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.
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.”
There’s a book – maybe a movie – in this story. It wasn’t just the constant agitation in the Daily Worker. There were also regular protests by Yickels and Yipsels in the bleachers and the checkmate: a groundbreaking NYS anti-discrimination law that invited lawsuits that would have dragged Branch Rickey into the 20th century if he hadn’t decided to preempt it all and jump out ahead of history as the Hero we all now agree to pretend he was.
(Personal note: my old comrade Si Gerson was an editor at the Daily Worker, if not the Editor-in-Chief, during some of the campaign for racial integration in professional baseball; it is he who first admonished me to dig deeper and learn the real history of what it took to help Jackie Robinson break the color barrier.)