Posts Tagged ‘Billy Rogell’

A Chance for Revenge: the 1935 Tigers

August 9, 2017

Mickey Cochrane with Detroit

All the way back in the first decade of the 20th Century, Detroit fielded the premier team in the American League. Led by players like Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford they won three consecutive AL pennants from 1907 through 1909. In three consecutive World Series appearances, however, they failed to win. In 1909 they came up short against Honus Wagner and the Pittsburgh Pirates. In both 1907 and ’08 it was the Tinker to Evers to Chance Chicago Cubs that thwarted them. After that they went into something of a tailspin that lasted into the 1930s when they again began fielding a superior team. It got to the World Series in 1934 and this time managed to lose to Dizzy Dean and the St. Louis Cardinals. With essentially the same team they won the AL pennant the next year.

Player-manager Mickey Cochrane led a team that led the league in runs, average, slugging, OBP, OPS, and total bases while ranking second in hits, doubles, triples, homers, and even stolen bases. The pitching staff was second in ERA, strikeouts, hits, and runs allowed. Cochrane himself contributed a .319 average, 46 RBIs, an 5.0 WAR. He wasn’t particularly well liked by the team. He was an in-your-face type manager who took emotion to a level that sometimes rankled his players. His backup was Ray Hayworth who also hit over .300 in 51 games.

They caught a staff that consisted of four primary starters. Schoolboy Rowe was 19-13 with an ERA in the mid-threes. He struck out a lot of men (140) for a WHIP of 1.233 but gave up a ton of hits. All of that resulting in 5.3 WAR. Tommy Bridges got 21 wins and an ERA just under Rowe’s, led the team in strikeouts with 163, but gave up more hits than he had inning pitched and showed 3.4 WAR at season’s end. Eldon Auker had 18 wins, an ERA of 3.83, gave up 18 more hits than he had innings pitched and had a walk to strikeout ratio that was close to one (1.405 WHIP) and 2.6 WAR. The other major starter was General Crowder whose ERA blossomed to over four, had more walks than strikeouts, gave up more hits than he had innings pitched (WHIP of 1.394) but still managed 16 wins and 1.7 WAR. The bullpen was led by Chief Hogsett’s 1.6 WAR, the result from, again, more hits allowed than innings pitched and more walks than strikeouts (1.634 WHIP). Joe Sullivan got into 25 games, half of them starts (12) and had an ERA of 3.51. Hogsett and Sullivan were the only lefties.

The infield was, in many ways, the strength of the team. It consisted of two Hall of Famers on the right side and two very good players on the left. Hank Greenberg held down first. His triple slash line read .328/.411/6.28/1.039 (OPS+ of 170) for 7.7 WAR. He had 36 home runs, 46 doubles, 16 triples (he seems to have liked the number six) and 168 RBIs (see what I mean about six?). His right side partner was Charlie Gehringer whose 7.8 WAR led the team. He had 19 homers, second to Greenberg, 108 RBIs (third on the team), and a triple slash line that read .330/.409/.502/.911 (OPS+ of 138). Beside him around second was Billy Rogell. He hit .275 with a .754 OPS and was fourth on the team with 74 RBIs. His WAR clocked in at 5.1. A brief aside is in order here. 5.1 WAR is generally considered all-star level. At the same time Rogell shows a 98 OPS+. Both are good stats and I’m sometimes surprised at how differently they can evaluate the same guy. Marv Owen was at third. He .263 with two less RBIs than Rogell (72), hit .263 and had only 0.3 WAR. Flea Clifton, who hit 2.55 (-0.2 WAR) was the only backup infielder who played in more than 20 games (and ya gotta admit with names like Flea, Chief, General, and Schoolboy this team had great nicknames).

Almost all the outfield work went to four men (no other outfielder played in more than 14 games). Joiner (“Jo Jo”–see what I mean about nicknames?) White was the primary center fielder. He led off most games, hit .240 led the team with 19 stolen bases (and 10 caught stealing), and had -1.3 WAR. He was flanked on the left side by Hall of Famer Goose Goslin. At 34, Goslin was the oldest position player on the team (a couple of pitchers, including another all-nickname player, Firpo Marberry, were older).He his triple slash line was .292/.355/.415/.770 (OPS+ of 102) and was second on the team with 111 RBIs. His WAR was 2.5. Pete Fox was the regular right fielder. He hit .321 had an .895 OPS, good for fourth on the team, racked up an OPS+ of 133 (also good for fourth on the team), and had an outfield leading 3.9 WAR. Gee Walker was the primary sub, getting into 98 games. He had -0.3 WAR to go with a .301 average, 56 RBIs, and an OPS+ of 104 (again note how WAR and OPS+ differ). He, joined by Goslin, Gehringer, and Greenberg, gave the team its informal nickname, “The G Men.”

As repeat pennant winners, the Tigers had experience in postseason play. Their opponents were the Chicago Cubs, thus giving the team a chance to gain revenge for the 1907 and 1908 losses. Having said that, I find no evidence that anyone on the team particularly cared if they got “revenge.” They wanted to win for their own team and their city.

1934: Back to Navin

May 2, 2017

With the Tigers up three games to two, the World Series shifted back to Navin Field in Detroit. To win the Series, all the Tigers had to do was win one of two. Their opponents, the St. Louis Cardinals, would have to sweep on the road to claim their third championship.

Game 6, 8 October 1934

Paul “Daffy” Dean

Detroit sent staff ace Schoolboy Rowe to the mound to clinch the Series. St. Louis responded with the younger Dean brother, Paul. The Cards got a run immediately. With one out, Jack Rothrock doubled. One out later, a Joe Medwick single scored Rothrock to put the Cardinals up 1-0.

It took a couple of innings, but the Tigers got the run back in the third on series of plays that started with a walk to JoJo White. White then stole second and went on to third when St. Louis second baseman, and manager, Frankie Frisch misplayed the ball. A single by Detroit catcher, and also manager, Mickey Cochrane gave the Tigers an unearned run and a tied ball game.

It stayed tied until the fifth when a Leo Durocher single and a Dean bunt put the go ahead run on second. Pepper Martin singled, scoring Durocher, and a bad throw by left fielder Goose Goslin who tried to nip Durocher at the plate got by Cochrane and put Martin on third. He stayed perched there for a couple of pitches before Rothrock rolled one to short. Martin scored as shortstop Billy Rogell got the out at first.

That held up until the sixth when White led off the inning with a walk and went to third on a Cochrane single. A Charlie Gehringer grounder back to the mound that Dean couldn’t handle scored White and advanced Cochrane. A Goslin bunt wasn’t far enough away from the catcher and St. Louis backstop Bill DeLancey gunned Cochrane down at third. A Rogell fly sent Gehringer to third and a Hank Greenberg single brought Gerhinger home with an unearned run that tied the game 3-3.

The tie lasted exactly three batters. With one out in the seventh, Durocher doubled, then came home on a single by pitcher Dean. He’d hurt himself with the misplay in the sixth, but made up for it with a single in the seventh. With St. Louis now up  4-3, he allowed singles in both the seventh and eighth innings (actually two in the eighth) but kept a run for scoring. In the ninth he set Detroit down in order to finish the game and tie the Series at three games each. The decisive game would be the next day.

Game 7, 9 October 1934

Joe Medwick

Game seven turned out to be one of the great blowouts in World Series history. It would be little remembered today except for one play and the fan reaction to it. It would make Joe Medwick a household name and require the Commissioner of Baseball to interfere in the World Series.

The game began with Eldon Auker on the mound for Detroit and Dizzy Dean pitching for St. Louis. For two innings nothing much happened. A handful of Cards got on base and Dean had a man reach on a error, but the score stayed 0-0. In the third with one out, Dean doubled. A Pepper Martin single sent him to third, then Martin stole second. A walk set up an out at any base and made a double play in order. The problem was that Cardinals second baseman Frankie Frisch hit the ball into the right field gap clearing the bases. A second out sent Frisch to third. A Rip Collins single and a Bill DeLancey double plated two runs, A walk and a single reloaded the bases. A Dean single brought in another run while leaving the bases loaded (and making Dean one of the few people to have two hits in one inning of a World Series game). A walk to Martin forced in another run. A Jack Rothrock grounder ended the inning, but the score now stood 7-0.

For Dean it became a walk in the park. Between the bottom of the third and the end of the fifth, he allowed a couple of men on base, but kept them clear of home. Then the Cards struck again in the sixth. Martin opened the frame with a single and came home on a Medwick triple. The play was close at third and Medwick slide in hard upsetting Marv Owen, the Detroit third baseman. Words were exchanged and some sources indicate that at least a few swings were taken. Ultimately Medwick was still safe and came home on a Rip Collins single, making the score 9-0.

But the play wasn’t over. Medwick went to his normal position in left field and the Detroit fans let him know what they thought of his roughhouse play. Medwick, being Medwick, didn’t care, but the fans continued to yell. Eventually various items of food, like oranges, and a sandwich or two, went flying out into left field. It went on long enough that play had to be stopped. Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis was in attendance and umpires turned to him for help. With the game already out of hand, Landis ruled that Medwick was to be removed from the game (at 9-0 it was presumed his bat wouldn’t be missed) and play would continue with a new Cardinals left fielder and a thorough clearing of left field. The new left fielder was Chick Fullis.

Losing Medwick didn’t matter. Dean set the Tigers down in order in the sixth and St. Louis tacked on two more runs in the seventh on a triple, an error, and a double. Now up 11-0, the Cards coasted to a win and took the Series in seven games.

It’s tough to call it a terrific Series. Two of the games, including the last, were blowouts, but four were decided by three or less runs. It was punctuated by two famous plays: Dean’s beaning in game four, and Medwick’s confrontation with a fruit salad in game seven.

St. Louis hit .279 with only two home runs, but they had 14 doubles and five triples (along with two stolen bases, both by Martin). Jack Rothrock had six RBIs, Medwick had five, and both Martin and DeLancey had four. Martin, Medwick, and Collins each had 11 hits and Martin, the lead off man, scored eight runs.

Detroit hit only .224 with two homers, one by Greenberg and the other by Gehringer. But they only had one triple and 12 doubles. Greenberg’s seven RBIs easily led the team while lead off man JoJo White had six runs scored. Gehringer’s 11 hits paced the losers.

The Cardinals pitching was spotty. Both the Dean brothers were great. The each had two wins, and Paul’s 1.00 ERA led the starters. But Tex Carleton and Bill Walker had ERA’s over seven. As a team they walked 25 and struck out 43. The Tigers pitchers were equally spotty. Schoolboy Rowe’s ERA was under three, but Eldon Auker’s was over five. As a team they walked 11 and struck out 31.

For St. Louis it would mark the team apex until the coming of the 1940s and Stan Musial. Paul Dean would hurt his arm and Dizzy Dean his toe and both would be out of the game by 1940. Medwick had a great next few years, then went to Brooklyn. DeLancey developed tuberculosis and would die shortly.

For Detroit they would get one more chance to win their first championship. They would, with essentially the same team, win a pennant again in 1935. This time they would face Chicago. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I’ll remind you that the Cubs went 108 years between World Series wins in 1908 and 2016. You figure it out.

 

1934: On to St. Louis

April 27, 2017

The middle three games of the scheduled seven game 1934 World Series were held on consecutive days in St. Louis. With the teams tied one game apiece, the Series was now a best of five affair.

Game 3, 5 October 1934

Paul “Daffy” Dean

For game three the Detroit Tigers sent Tommy Bridges to the mound. The Cardinals responded with Dizzy Dean’s younger brother, Paul. Sometimes called “Daffy”, a nickname he hated, he was considerably less colorful than his brother, but Paul Dean was every bit as good a pitcher, if only for a few seasons.

In game three he was close to masterful. Inning after inning he shut down the strong Tigers lineup. Over eight innings he allowed six hits while walking five (the five walks keep the outing from being truly “masterful”) and striking out seven. No Detroit player advanced beyond second base. In the top of the ninth, JoJo White led off with a single. Dean got the next two men on pop ups. Needing one out for a shutout, he allowed a Hank Greenberg triple that plated White for the Tigers first, and only, run. Another pop up finished Detroit.

Meanwhile, the Cards jumped on Bridges for a run in each of the first two innings and two more in the fifth. Pepper Martin led off the first with a triple and scored on a Jack Rothrock sacrifice fly. A Rip Collins single, a double by Bill DeLancey, and another sacrifice fly, this one by Dean, led to what proved to be the winning run. In the fifth St. Louis tacked on insurance runs via a Martin double, a Rothrock triple, and a Frankie Frisch single.

The final was 4-1 and St. Louis, thanks go Pepper Martin, Jack Rothrock, and a great pitching performance by Paul Dean was ahead in the Series two games to one. It set the stage for arguably the most famous beanball in baseball history.

Game 4, 6 October 1934

Dizzy Dean (on ground) and Billy Rogell

Game four began as simply another World Series game. It ended as one of the more famous, primarily for one incident in mid-game.

The game was a blowout with Detroit winning 10-4. Eldon Auker pitched for the Tigers and scattered four runs, three of them earned, and four walks, while giving up 10 hits. He gave up a run in the second and the third, but Detroit jumped on Tex Carleton for three runs in the third. He was pulled and Hall of Fame pitcher Dazzy Vance made his only World Series appearance ever. He got out of the inning after allowing an inherited runner to score and then wild pitched a run home in the fourth.

Going into the bottom of the fourth, the score stood 4-2 in favor of Detroit. Ernie Orsatti led off the half inning with a single. Leo Durocher hit a ball to Marv Owen at third. He flipped to Charlie Gehringer for a force at second, but Gehringer dropped the ball making both runners safe. Spud Davis then pinch hit for Vance. He singled home Orsatti and sent Durocher to third. Davis was slow and a catcher. Manager Frisch decided to pinch run for him. Dizzy Dean, not scheduled to pitch in game four, went in as the pinch runner. That brought up Pepper Martin, whose ball in play scored Durocher and tied the game.

But the big news was at second. Martin’s ball went to Gehringer, who tossed to shortstop Billy Rogell for an out on the advancing Dean. Then Rogell fired the ball to first in an attempt at a double play. Dean was running head down and Rogell admitted he threw low to force Dean to slide. Dean seems not to have noticed and he and ball collided. Down went Dean with a blow to the head and all St. Louis fans held their breath. He was carried from the field and rushed to the nearest hospital for x-rays.

With Dean gone, the Cardinals offense completely collapsed (remember, the score was tied when Dean went down). They scored no more runs while Detroit erupted for one more run in the seventh and five in the eighth. The most famous of the scoring plays was a steal of home in the eighth by big Hank Greenberg who was never noted for his speed. The final scored ended up 10-4 and knotted the Series at two games each.

Of course the big question was “how’s Dean”? The hospital released him that evening and a flood of reporters was waiting for him. The first, and obvious, question was, “How are you, Diz?” His response was priceless, “They x-rayed my head and didn’t find nothing.”

Dean is, along with Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and Yogi Berra, one of those people who get a lot of credit for things they probably didn’t really say. But in this case, apparently he really did say it. Back several years ago my son was walking when he discovered proof that two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time. In his case himself and a car. He was hit and suffered head trauma. The ran x-rays of course (and lots of other tests). A week or so later they gave us the x-rays to keep. We looked them over closely. You could see a small fracture in one and in the other you could see inside the skull to note a little brain swelling. He looked at them and through the still pounding headache commented, “Hey, they x-rayed my head and did find something. I’m one up on Dizzy Dean.” I love my kid. (BTW he’s fine, he’s grown up to be a successful husband, father, and a good man–at least as good as he can be with me as half of his parenting model.)

Here’s another shot of the beaning of Dean, taken from another angle. Dean is on the ground, Rogell is bending over him. The player in the distance with the dark hat and wearing number 8 is Tigers third baseman Marv Owen. The two Cardinals in the foreground wearing 8 and 9 are Spud Davis and Bill DeLancey. I don’t know which umpire is pictured.

Dean’s beaning

Game 5, 7 October 1934

Tommy Bridges

On 7 October 1934 the biggest baseball question was “How’s Dizzy Dean doing?” The answer was he was doing well enough to start game five of the World Series. He went eight innings, gave up six hits and three walks while striking out six. He also gave up three runs, two of them earned. In the second inning, he walked Hank Greenberg then saw him score on a Pete Fox double. In the sixth Charlie Gehringer led off with a home run and a Billy Rogell single coupled with an error put Dean nemesis Rogell on third. He scored the unearned run on a subsequent Greenberg sacrifice fly.

It was a good performance, particularly after the beaning, but Tigers starter Tommy Bridges was better. He allowed one run, a Bill DeLancey home run in the seventh, gave up seven hits, and walked none. He struck out seven Cardinals and put Detroit ahead in the Series three games to two.

With the end of the three games in St. Louis, the 1934 World Series returned to Detroit for game six and a possible game seven. The Tigers were going home needing only one win to gain their first ever championship. The Cardinals needed to win both games to claim their third (1926 and 1931). They would have the Dean brothers on the mound for each game.

 

 

 

 

guably

1934: Games 1 and 2

April 25, 2017

The first two games of the 1934 World Series were played in Navin Field, Detroit.

Game 1, 3 October 1934

Ole Diz

For St. Louis, manager Frankie Frisch sent his ace, Dizzy Dean, to the mound for game one. The Tigers manager, Mickey Cochrane, responded with General Crowder. Crowder was in trouble early. With one out in the top of the second, Ernie Orsatti singled. One out later both Dean and Cardinals lead off man Pepper Martin got on with consecutive errors by Detroit all-star second baseman Charlie Gehringer. A Jack Rothrock single plated both Orsatti and Dean to put St. Louis up 2-0. It would not be the last time an error would wreck the Tigers.

In the third, Joe Medwick led off with a single. A Rip Collins roller to Gehringer led to a flip to Tigers shortstop Billy Rogell. He got the out on Medwick, but threw the ball away trying to double up Collins, who ended up at second. Then catcher Bill DeLancey hit one to first baseman Hank Greenberg, who fumbled it allowing DeLancey to be safe and letting Collins score all the way from second.

Detroit got a run back in the third, but Medwick hit the Series’ first home run in the fifth to put St. Louis back ahead by three runs, 4-1. Then the Cards had the first big inning of the Series. With Firpo Marberry now on the mound for the Tigers (Crowder was lifted for a pinch hitter) in the sixth, three singles, a bunt, and a double plated four Cardinals and put the game away. Detroit got two more runs, including a Greenberg home run, but St. Louis cruised to an 8-3 win. Dean had predicted he’d win game one. He had.

Game 2, 4 October 1934

Schoolboy Rowe

Many people claim game two was the best of the 1934 World Series games. With Schoolboy Rowe on the mound for Detroit, the Cards struck for early runs on a single and Orsatti triple in the second inning. In the third, Medwick singled to score Martin and put St. Louis ahead 2-0. It could have been 3-0, but a great throw by Goose Goslin nipped Medwick at the plate for the final out of the inning.

From that point Rowe calmed down and shut out the Cards without a hit. He also didn’t walk anybody, giving him 18 men set down in a row. While he was holding St. Louis scoreless, the Tigers were chipping away at Cards starter Bill Hallahan. Doubles by Billy Rogell and Pete Fox gave Detroit its first run in the bottom of the fourth. With the score now 2-1, Hallahan kept the Tigers off the scoreboard until the ninth.

Fox led off the inning with a single and went to second on a sacrifice bunt. Gee Walker, pinch hitting for JoJo White, singled to score Fox, then was picked off first to kill the rally.

With the game in extra innings, Rowe did the unthinkable, he gave up a hit. It went no where and at the middle of the 12th, the score still stood 2-2. Hallahan had been lifted earlier and Bill Walker stood on the hill for St. Louis going into the bottom of the 12th. With one out he faced the Tigers “G-Men.” He walked both Gehringer and Greenberg, which brought up Goslin, who promptly singled to center to score Gehringer and tie up the Series at one game each.

With the Series now tied, the games shifted to St. Louis and Sportsman’s Park, which would host the next three games. Games three and five would be the best games, but it was game four that became memorable for one throw and one immortal line.

1934: The G-Men

April 18, 2017

Black Mike

Detroit hadn’t done much in baseball by 1935. Yeah, they’d had the Wolverines in the 1880s and that team won a National League pennant and one of those postseason series that served as an early version of the World Series, but then the team quickly folded. The American League put a team into Detroit in 1901 and it took a few years to jell into a pretty fair squad. Led by Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford, the team won consecutive pennants in 1907-1909, then fell back and were also-rans through the teens and the 1920s. By 1934, that changed as the Tigers G-Men team finally broke through to win the American League pennant.

In the 1930s the name “G-Men” was applied to FBI agents. It was short for “government men” and was considered something of a badge of honor. The Tigers featured three men whose last name began with “G” in the heart of their lineup. Another of their outfielders had a nickname beginning with “G.” It was sort of natural.

The team won 101 games and led the league in hitting at .290. It also showed first in slugging, OBP, OPS, walks, runs, and total bases. In in hits, home runs, triples, doubles, stolen bases, it finished second. To top it off they didn’t strike out much (third). The pitching wasn’t quite that good, but they were second in the AL in hits, runs, ERA, and strike outs. They even led the league in fielding percentage.

From first around to third, the infield consisted of Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer (two of the “G” men), Billy Rogell, and Marv Owen. All were in their prime. Greenberg, one of the first great Jewish ballplayers, (which would become something of an issue during the Series) hit .339 with an OPS of 1.005 (OPS+ of 156), 26 home runs, 139 RBIs (both led the team), and 201 hits. His WAR was 6.2. If possible, Gehringer was better. He hit .356, had an OPS+ of 149, 214 hits, 127 RBIs, played a wonderful second base, and led the team with 8.4 WAR. Owen at third also came in with a batting average north of three (.317), with a 115 OPS+, 98 RBIs, and 3.3 WAR. Rogell didn’t make a 300 average. He ended up at .296 (hey, somebody’s gotta be the low guy). He had 99 RBIs, 175 hits, an OPS+ of 98 (which seems low to me), and 4.8 WAR.

The outfield saw four men do almost all the work. Hall of Fame member Goose Goslin (the third “G” man) was in left. He hit .305 with 13 home runs (second on the team), 100 RBIs, 187 hits, a 112 OPS+, and 2.7 WAR. JoJo White was in center. He hit .313 and led the team with 28 stolen bases. His OPS+ was 108 and his WAR was 2.5. He was spelled by Gee Walker (the last “G” man). Walker hit an even .300 with 20 stolen bases and 1.0 WAR. Pete Fox held down the other outfield slot. He was low among the starters with a .285 average, but was second on the team with 25 stolen bases and produced 0.9 WAR.

Other than Walker, the team didn’t have much of a bench. Flea Clifton and Frank Doljack were the only non-catchers (except Walker) to play in more than 15 games (Clifton was in 16). Doljack hit .233 with a home run, while Clifton had under .100. The backup catcher was Ray Hayworth. He got into 54 games hit .293 with no power.

The pitching staff featured twin aces: Schoolboy Rowe and Tommy Bridges. Both won over 20 games with ERAs in the middle threes. Each pitched a lot of innings and gave up a lot of hits. Both struck out more men than they walked, but had WHIPs that were high for aces (1.284 for Bridges and 1.278 for Rowe). Beyond them, four men started double figure games, but none of them started 20 or more. Vic Sorrell and 35 year-old Firpo Marberry each started 19 games. Both had ERA numbers in the middle fours and gave up more hits than they had innings pitched. At least Marberry got 15 wins out of it. Carl Fisher, the only lefty, and Elden Auker were the other two pitchers with more than 10 starts. Auker, with 15 wins and an ERA under four did the better of the two. Of the staff, Rowe had 7.1 WAR and Bridges put up 5.0.

All these were managed by the primary catcher, Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane. “Black Mike” (the name had more to do with his temper than his complexion) was still a fine catcher. He hit .320 with an .840 OPS and an OPS+ of 117 to go with 4.0 WAR (which is excellent for a player-manager). He was respected more than liked.

The G-Men were a formidable team. They hit well, had decent power, a good pitching staff, an excellent (for the era) fielding team. They were weak in the bench and their pitchers gave up a lot of hits (it was a hitting era). In the World Series, they would face one of the most famous of all Major League teams, the “Gas House Gang” Cardinals.

 

 

The Councilman

August 25, 2015
Billy Rogell

Billy Rogell

I’ve typed this before, but it bears repeating. My grandfather once told me there were three things you never discussed in public: politics, religion, and sports. Eventually you’d quit discussing and start arguing. The only thing worse was to combine two of them in the same discussion. I’ve discovered there’s a lot of truth to that, but I’m going to break that rule (as I’ve done before with Billy Sunday and Count Sensenderfer) and do a little bit on a man who combined two. In his case it was sport and politics, and he did both well. His name was Billy Rogell.

Rogell came out of Springfield, Illinois to play shortstop in the big leagues in 1925. He’d done well in the minors and the Red Sox tried him at second base. They also tried to make him give up switch hitting and concentrate on hitting right-handed. Needless to say the change in batting stance and playing out of position made him ineffective (he hit a buck ninety-five with no power) and got him sent back to the minors. He resurfaced in 1927, did better. Played in 1928, and was let go by Boston. After another year in the minors, Detroit picked him up for the 1930 season.

Again, he didn’t do particularly well, but by late 1931 he’d become the Tigers regular shortstop. He hit .303 in 48 games and played a solid short. He remained the Tigers primary shortstop through the 1930s. Teaming with Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer, he helped form one of the best keystone combinations of the era. He hit well (generally in the .270s) with little power (the nine home runs he hit in 1932 was his peak), a good eye (he tended to walk about twice as often as he struck out), and his WAR (BBREF version) floated between 2.0 and a high of 5.1 in 1935. He led the American League in fielding percentage, assists, putouts, and double plays a few times, but almost always was in the top three or four in the AL in most fielding categories.

He helped Detroit to consecutive AL pennants in 1934 and 1935. In the former year the Tigers lost a seven game World Series to the St. Louis “Gas House Gang.” He hit .276 for the Series with four RBIs and eight hits. In the famous incident involving the beaning of Cardinals ace Dizzy Dean, Rogell was the man who threw the ball.  He was such a competitor that when told he’d hit Dean in the head, he responded, “If I’d known his head was there, I’d have thrown the ball harder.” In 1935 Detroit won the Championship with Rogell hitting .292 with seven hits, including a pair of doubles.

By 1938 he was 33 and fading, although he set a Major League record by walking in seven consecutive plate appearances in August (three games were involved). He had a bad year in 1939 and was traded to the Cubs. He was through. He hit all of .136 in 33 games. He retired at the end of the season, but returned to baseball as a minor leaguer in 1941.

Hugely popular in Detroit, Rogell ran for public office in 1941 and was elected to the City Council. Except for a two-year break, he remained in City Government into 1980. Much of his emphasis was on public works and he chaired the committee that built the modern Detroit airport (the road leading into the airport is named for him). In retirement he was chosen to throw out the first pitch in the final game at Tiger Stadium. Returning to retirement, he died in 2003 at age 98.

For his baseball career he hit .267 with an OBP of .351, slugged .370, and had an OPS of .722 (OPS+ 85 and 23.7 WAR–again BBREF version). His WAR peaked in 1933 at 5.3 (he was also above 4.0 in 1934 and 1935). He had 1375 hits, 256 doubles, 75 triples, and 42 home runs for 1907 total bases. He scored 757 runs and had 610 RBIs to go with 82 stolen bases and 649 walks.

Teaming with Gehringer he made the Tigers a formidable defensive team up the middle. Although he didn’t hit nearly as well as Gehringer, Rogell was still a good enough hitter. He’s never gotten much push for the Hall of Fame and probably shouldn’t.

Billy Rogell was an example of something that was missing in baseball for a long while, the civic-minded sportsman. We’re seeing it begin to return at least a little as teams realize the good PR that can be gained by having their team at least appear civic-minded. It seems that in Rogell’s case it was, as 38 years on the Detroit City Council would prove, much more than appearance.