“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. “Ever hear of him?” A glance towards my father told me he didn’t have a clue who I was talking about. “He was a baseball player.”
“And you know he’s buried here?”
“Yes,” I replied confidently. “But don’t ask me where, because I’m not exactly sure.” Honestly, while I knew I was looking for Billy Cox, the stop at the cemetery was a spur of the moment decision and I had no clue where to begin searching.
“There are two guys over there,” my father 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.
“You know who Billy was?” the older of the two gentlemen asked.
“Yes, sir,” I replied. “He was a baseball player. He played for the Pirates, Dodgers and Orioles, and he served in World War Two.”
“Brooklyn or LA?”
“Brooklyn, of course”
The answer seemed to satisfy him and he gave vague directions to locate Billy’s grave. “Go back over to the Memorial Park section. Go halfway down the hill and he’s on the right.”
Following his directions, my father and I started our search for Billy’s grave with no luck. While the directions narrowed the search area down, we spent almost twenty minutes scanning the stones in search of Billy’s grave with no luck. I was about ready to return for better directions 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. Nothing decorated the grave other than a flag that had been knocked over – I set it up and it was soon flapping lazily in the wind.
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 Billy led the league in batting, hits, doubles, and total bases. In September 1941, he was called up to the Pittsburgh Pirates and on September 20, Billy played the first of ten games with them, batting .270 that season
The following year he, like many of the baseball players of the time, entered military service. On February 9, 1942, he joined 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 re-signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He would play one season with them before being traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers. He would play third base for 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.
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 resided in Newport until his death on March 30, 1978 at the age of 58.
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.