Some close calls in World War II almost claimed Billy Cox, and when he returned after four years in the military he was 30 pounds lighter and not in baseball shape. It didn’t appear that a career in professional sports would be in his future, but Cox defied the odds and went on to become an important piece of the Brooklyn Dodgers pennant-winning teams in the late 1940s and early 1950s.†”I lost a good part of my career but Iím not kicking,” Cox said, “I went through four years of the war, and came out whole, so I guess I’m lucky.”
Cox’s break came after the 1947 season when he was traded from Pittsburgh along with pitcher Preacher Roe and infielder Gene Mauch to the Dodgers for three players, including veteran outfielder Dixie Walker. Brooklyn president Branch Rickey was partially motivated to make the deal to remove the southern (and prejudiced) Walker from the clubhouse that included new star Jackie Robinson. But for other reasons the move proved to be one of best in the history of the Brooklyn club. Cox played seven seasons at third base for the Dodgers and Roe won 93 games for the team, helping to anchor the staff.
Cox had been tapped to replace Arky Vaughan at shortstop in Pittsburgh, but with Pee Wee Reese ensconced at that position, the Dodgers moved Billy to third. The switch worked wonderfully, as Cox displayed his superior range and amazing acrobatic skills at the hot corner. Cox was famous for diving toward the line and snaring would-be doubles, and he was one of the first players to regularly field slow grounders with his bare hand and fire across the diamond for the out. Universally accepted as the best third baseman in the league during his prime, had there been Gold Glove Awards in his time (they weren’t inaugurated until 1957), Cox would have won more than one.
Though he wasn’t the great hitter, in the Brooklyn lineup he didn’t need to be. For most of his career as a Dodger he batted low in the order behind the big bats of Robinson, Reese, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo, and Andy Pafko. Cox was a good contact hitter though, striking out only 218 times in 11 seasons. In 1953 he had his best year with the bat, hitting .291 with 10 homers and 44 RBI and a .443 slugging percentage in 100 games.
Cox played in three World Series for the Dodgers, in 1949, 1952, and 1953, with his club losing to the New York Yankees each time. He hit a homer and drove in six runs in the ’53 Series, but was traded to the Baltimore Orioles prior to the ’55 season and missed the Dodgers only Fall Classic victory that Fall.