Sunday, June 26, 2016


I have to admit that this is my favorite chapter. Though I've been a Yankee fan for most of my life, I couldn't help feeling a little sorry for the Dodgers having to face the greatest Yankee squads of all time in the World Series year after year. Before the 1955 season, when the Dodgers finally broke the curse, the Yankees had beaten them five times in postseason play. In fact, the only thing preventing the Dodgers from building one of the most powerful dynasties in history was the Yankees and Giants, who offered stiff competition for the NL pennant nearly every year during the 1950s. When I was twelve years old, I read Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer and have been fascinated by the Brooklyn Dodgers ever since. When it came time to shorten my own book (which pales in comparison to Kahn's iconic work) I had difficulty deciding which biographies to eliminate. In the end, I ousted Billy Cox and Preacher Roe, neither of whom participated in the Dodgers' stirring seven-game victory over the Yankees in the '55 World Series. 

BEST RECORD: (105-49/ 1953)
HALL OF FAMERS: Walter Alston (MGR), Jackie Robinson (IF), Pee Wee Reese (SS), Duke Snider (OF), Roy Campanella (C)


Billy Cox
Third Base 
            Roger Kahn referred to Cox as “the most glorious glove on the most glorious team that ever played baseball in the sunlight of Brooklyn.” Cox was used as both a shortstop and third baseman, though he was slightly below average at short, pacing the loop in errors during the ‘46 slate with 39. At the hot corner (his primary station), he won a fielding title and finished among the top five in double plays four times, putouts three times and assists twice. During the ‘52 World Series, he put on a magnificent defensive display, drawing admiration from opponents. “That ain’t no third baseman,” Casey Stengel quipped, “that’s an acrobat”
            Cox came up through the Pirate organization, hitting .270 in a brief trial during the ‘41 slate. He then put his career on hold to serve in the Army. He saw combat in North Africa, Sicily, France and Germany. His unit followed front line troops, laying wires and setting up communications centers. The war experience was trying on his nerves and he dropped twenty-five pounds during his time in the service. His playing weight would later be listed at 150.
            He had a breakout season with the Prates in 1947, clubbing 30 doubles and 15 homers while driving-in 54 runs mostly out of the leadoff spot. In the offseason, he was included in a six-player trade that also sent pitching star Preacher Roe to Brooklyn.
            Cox was susceptible to injuries throughout his career, never appearing in more than 142 games in any season. During his seven years in Brooklyn, his batting averages ranged from .233 to .291. He was always a better hitter in the World Series, compiling a .302 average in three losing causes. His finest offensive Series came in ‘53 versus the Yanks, when he clubbed 3 doubles and a homer while driving-in 6 runs.
Cox missed the championship season of ‘55 when he was dealt to the Orioles. At the time of the transaction, Dodger president Walter O’Malley commented: “We regard Cox as the greatest glove man Brooklyn ever had.” He ended up getting traded to the Indians midway through the '55 campaign and opted for retirement instead. His lifetime fielding percentage is among the top marks of all time for a third baseman.
            Cox died of cancer in 1978 at the age of fifty-eight. At the time, he was working as a steward in a private club in his hometown of Newport, Pennsylvania.

Preacher Roe
            The year after his retirement, Roe surprised Brooklyn fans by admitting that he had regularly used a spitball during his playing days. The admission itself was the only surprising part. The fact that he had been moistening his offerings was common knowledge among batters who sometimes joked that they tried to “hit the dry side” of the ball when Roe was dealing.
            The son of a rural doctor in Arkansas, Elwin Roe’s nickname was derived from his early aspirations of becoming a minister. His father had been a minor league player during the Deadball Era and hoped one of his sons would follow in his footsteps. Elwin carried it one step farther, aspiring to the majors in 1944.
            Roe attended Harding College in Arkansas, averaging 18 strikeouts per game. The Cardinals signed him to a contract before the ’38 campaign, but he fared poorly in his only start. He toiled in the St. Louis farm system from 1939 through 1943 and was eventually traded to Pittsburgh. With the Pirates in ’44, he went 13-11 with a 3.11 ERA. The following year, he led the NL with 148 strikeouts and won 14 more games. He appeared to be on the fast track to stardom before an unfortunate incident occurred in the offseason.
            Roe had taken a job teaching math and coaching basketball at Hardy High School in Arkansas. While disputing a call during a basketball game, he was punched out by the referee. His head hit the floor and he suffered a fractured skull. For the next two seasons, he experienced periodic headaches and dizziness. He was a ghost of his former self on the mound, posting a dismal 4-15 record with a 5.25 ERA in 1947. The Dodgers noticed that the Pirates weren’t spotting him any runs in many of his starts and decided to take a chance on him.
            Roe never regained his velocity after the head injury, but he became a craftier pitcher, mixing speeds and toying with a spitball. He had a deceptive technique when loading up the ball that involved spitting into the palm of his hand then tugging on his belt. If batters appeared to be ready for a “wet one,” he would throw an off-speed pitch or a weak fastball, which he called his “fake spitter.”
            The wily left-hander soon became one of Brooklyn’s most successful pitchers. Between 1948 and 1953, he compiled a 90-33 record with earned run averages typically hovering in the high-two’s to low-three’s. He was named to four straight All-Star teams and led the league in winning percentage during the ‘51 slate, when he posted a phenomenal 22-3 mark. He won ten straight decisions twice that year.
            Roe played in three World Series with the Dodgers. In Game 2 of the ‘49 Fall Classic versus the Yankees, he was hit by a drive off the bat of Johnny Lindell. A hole was drilled into his torn fingernail to alleviate the swelling. He finished the game in pain, polishing off a 6-hit 1-0 victory. In the ‘52 Series against New York, he tossed another 6-hitter and was credited with the win in Game 3. He made his last postseason appearance in ‘53, scattering 5 hits in the second game. Unfortunately, two of them were homers by Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle. He was strapped with a 4-2 loss.
            The veteran hurler made just fifteen appearances during the ’54 campaign and was finished in the majors after that. Though Roe was quite intelligent, he preferred to maintain the image of a country bumpkin, which is how he was perceived by many fans. He was reportedly paid $2,000 to confess his sins to Sports Illustrated writer Dick Young. The article was not well received by insiders and Roe became somewhat of an outcast. He ran a large, successful grocery store in West Plains, Missouri after baseball. He was ninety-two years-old when he died in 2008.  

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