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  Rogell, William G. "Billy"
NameWilliam G. "Billy" Rogell
Detroit, Michigan , United States
Born November 24, 1904
DiedAugust 09, 2003 (98 years)
ContributorThomas Walker
Last ModifedDavid
Nov 24, 2021 02:41pm
InfoWilliam George "Billy" Rogell

To those who knew him, William “Billy” Rogell was a scrapper who never shied away from a good fight — whether on the ball field or in the political arena.

It was a trait that served him well in both his careers — as a major league baseball player and later as a Detroit city councilman. Called the “sharp-tongued champion of the middle class,” Rogell was known as a gruff councilman with a reputation for helping people in trouble and for keeping a watchful eye over city spending.

Rogell died of pneumonia on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2003, at St. John Macomb Hospital in Warren. He was 98. Survivors include his wife of 29 years, Verna; a son, Robert; and a stepson, Tom Schlarman.

A memorial Mass is planned for 11 a.m. Sept. 13 at St. Blase Catholic Church in Sterling Heights.

In his latter career Rogell was not only a firebrand on the council for nearly 40 years, but was instrumental in keeping Detroit Metropolitan Airport at its site in Romulus, where there was abundant land and room to grow. He was also a big advocate of building the Southfield Freeway.

Born William George Rogell on Nov. 24, 1904, in Springfield Ill., the diminutive ballplayer may not have posted Hall of Fame statistics during his playing career, but his name has been immortalized at Metro for his efforts in the political arena to keep the airport in Romulus when other vocal leaders and residents were attempting to move it elsewhere.

The main roadway through the north terminal area, Rogell Drive, was named in his honor in the 1950s.

In his first career as a shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, Rogell helped the team win the American League championship in 1934, and then go on to win the World Series in 1935 against the Chicago Cubs at Tiger Stadium, then called Navin Field.

His baseball career started slowly, though. He first made the big league with the Boston Red Sox in 1925, but was returned to the minors. In 1930, the Tigers brought him up, and he became a standby at shortstop through the 1939 season. He played the next season for the Chicago Cubs before returning to his adopted home in 1941, the year he was first elected to City Council.

The late-1940s battle over the airport’s location was so heated that Rogell actually lost his seat over it in the 1947 election. Two years later, however, voters returned him to office — where he remained until he retired in 1981.

As a shortstop, Rogell was a member of one of the best infields in Tigers’ history, sharing the spotlight with Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer and Marv Owen. Rogell led the American league in fielding percentage among shortstops for three consecutive years, from 1935-1937.

Since his retirement from City Council, Rogell has spent most of his time at his home in Florida. His last publicized visit to the Detroit area occurred in September 1999, when he came to participate in the ceremonies related to the closing of Tiger Stadium. Rogell was one of two people chosen to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for final game played by the Tigers in the historic stadium.

While Rogell was in town, Wayne County officials, still the operators of Metro at that time, utilized the opportunity to honor him for his role at Metro.

“Billy Rogell was not only a great athlete, but also a great politician,” former County Executive Edward McNamara said at the time. “He always fought for what he thought was right and then stuck to his guns. His vision and unwavering hard work helped Metro Airport grow into one of the world’s most important air transportation gateways.”





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