Ex-Tiger Rogell was scrappy
STERLING HEIGHTS -- As a ballplayer, Billy Rogell was a scrapper who didn't mind getting his uniform dirty. He carried that same determination to the Detroit City Council, where he served 38 years.
Mr. Rogell was first known to Metro Detroiters as the slick-fielding shortstop for the Tigers' first world championship team in 1935. After he retired, he served as an outspoken member of the Detroit City Council where, among other issues, he fought to get the Southfield Freeway and Metro Airport built.
"All I ever wanted was Detroit to be a better place to live," Mr. Rogell told The Detroit News in an interview last year.
Mr. Rogell died of pneumonia on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2003, in St. John Macomb Hospital in Warren. He was 98.
"He was a fiesty maverick," said ex-Tiger broadcaster Ernie Harwell. "He was a good guy in baseball and politics."
Mr. Rogell broke into the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox in 1925, but was returned to the minors. In 1930 ,the Tigers brought him up to the big leagues to stay.
Mr. Rogell played for the Tigers through the 1939 season and then played with the Chicago Cubs a year before retiring with a .267 lifetime batting average.
In 1941, Mr. Rogell was elected to the Detroit City Council. A staunch conservative, he served until 1947, when he was voted out while embroiled in a fierce battle with Detroit's three daily newspapers over the location of Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
As a Detroit News editorial said years later, Mr. Rogell "lost the election, but won the argument. The airport drive in Romulus is named for him."
He was re-elected to the City Council in 1949, and remained there until he retired in 1981.
"He never missed a meeting," said council President Maryann Mahaffey. "He was a crusty gentleman, but he was adamant that you should never cuss in front of a lady."
Most recently, he lived in the MediLodge nursing home in Sterling Heights.
Survivors include his wife of 29 years, Verna; a son, Robert; and a stepson Tom Schlarman.
A memorial Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Sept. 13 at St. Blase Catholic Church in Sterling Heights. Burial will be in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield.