Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Along the Way: Billy Cox

The simple grave of William R. "Billy" Cox
Newport Cemetery, Newport
“So who are we looking for this time?” my father asked as I drove slowly along the roadway that meandered through the Newport Cemetery.

“Billy Cox,” I responded. “He was a baseball player.”

“You know where he’s buried at in here?”

“I’m not really sure,” I replied. To be honest while I knew I was looking for Billy Cox, the stop at the cemetery was a spur of the moment decision. I had not really done the amount of research I needed to do in order to locate his grave.

“There are two guys over there,” dad observed as he pointed to a shed at the edge of the cemetery. I parked and walked over to ask them if they knew the location of Billy Cox’s grave.

Th older gentlemen responded. “Go back over to the Memorial Park section. Go halfway down the hill and he’s on the right side of the road.” Following his instructions I parked and dad and I started our search for him with no luck. While his vague directions narrowed the search area down,, dad and I spent almost thirty minutes scanning the stones in search of Billy’s grave with no luck. I was about ready to give up when I finally discovered the resting place of Billy Cox.

The simple stone bears no markings that would hint at Billy’s career. Nothing would suggest that here lies a professional baseball player who played third base for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Baltimore Orioles.

Billy Cox: Baltimore Orioles
Baseball card part of author's personal collection
William Richard “Billy” Cox was born in Newport on August 28, 1919. His father played semi-pro baseball and the love of the game was passed on to Billy, who was an outstanding athlete in high school.

In 1940 Billy, who batted and threw right-handed, signed to play shortstop for the Harrisburg Senators in the Interstate League. That season he batted .288 with 24 doubles, 5 triples, and 8 home runs. The following year he led the league in batting, hits, doubles, and total bases. In September of 1941 he was called up to the Pittsburgh Pirates. On September 20, Billy played the first of ten games with them, batting a .270.

The following year he, like many of the baseball players of the time, entered military service. On February 9, 1942, he entered into service with the 814th Signal Corps. During World War Two Billy would see action around the world including Guadalcanal, North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany.

In late 1945 Billy returned home and on November 19 he was discharged from service at the Fort Indiantown Gap Separation Center. Billy immediately returned to Newport and on November 26 married his long-time sweetheart Annie Radle.

On February 1, 1946, Billy once again signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He would play one season with them before being traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He would play eight seasons with Brooklyn, helping them win three pennants, before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1955. He played one season with that team, having his worst batting average (.211) in the eleven years he played professional ball.

Billy Cox: Brooklyn Dodgers
Baseball card a part of the
Author's personal collection
On June 11 1955, at the trading deadline, Billy was traded to the Cleveland Indians, but would not report to his new team. He did meet with Al Lopez, the manager of the Cleveland Indians (who were the reigning American League champions), and resolved to retire due to his legs being all bruised and swollen. On June 17, Billy Cox’s professional baseball career came to an end. Billy returned home and checked himself into the hospital to be treated for a hernia. He would continue residing in Newport until his death on March 30, 1978 at the age of fifty-eight.

During his professional career Billy had a .262 batting average, with 66 home runs and 351 runs batted in.

The baseball fields at the Veterans Community Park in Newport are named in his honor.

Finding Billy’s grave can be a little bit of a challenge. Enter into the Newport Cemetery and go to the Memorial Park portion, which is in the rear left portion of the cemetery. Turning onto the roadway that leads into it (it is the only roadway) go about fifty yards and park. Billy’s grave is on the right only a couple stones off of the roadway.

And as always, if you choose to visit, please be respectful of your surroundings. 

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