’84 champ Rozema’s fine rookie season and kung-fu kick earn him place in Tiger history

Dave Rozema acknowledges the fans at Tiger Stadium as he leaves the mound during the 1979 season.

In 1977 the Tigers introduced a bumper crop of rookies fresh from the team’s rich farm club system, five of whom would help produce a world championship seven years later.

The group included Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Steve Kemp and a promising 20-year old right hander from Grand Rapids who nearly became the American League Rookie of the Year.

One year after Tiger hurler Mark “The Bird” Fidyrch took the baseball world by storm, Dave Rozema began his ten-year career with an impressive 15-7 record, a 3.09 ERA, 16 complete games, and a August 29, 1977 feature in Sports Illustrated, entitled “The Rose Has Bloomed.”

Nearly twenty years later that same august publication would declare Rozema “one of the 10 Greatest Characters in Detroit Tigers History.”

On April 21, 1977, Rozema earned his first major league win when he beat Carl Yastrzemski and the Red Sox 8-0 on a 4-hit complete game gem at Fenway Park.

Armed with a wicked change up, great control, and the ability to alternate speeds with his curveball and slider, Rozema appeared to be destined for stardom.

But as it turned out, Rozema would soon compete in the long shadow cast by Morris, and earn a reputation as a happy go lucky guy who enjoyed the good times with his best buddy and future brother in law Kirk Gibson. (In 1985, Rozema and Gibson married sisters in a double ring ceremony in Grosse Pointe.)

In 1978, Rozema finished with a 9-12 record and 3.14 ERA, but thereafter he was never able to recapture what he had shown in his rookie season. After serving as a starter from 1977 to 1979, Rozema was used principally as a middle reliever and spot starter.

“Rosey” started the 1982 season with a 3-0 record and a low ERA out of the pen for Sparky, but in May an on-field “Kung Fu” move backfired horribly.

On May 16, 1982, at Tiger Stadium, a bench clearing brawl erupted after two Tigers were hit by pitches from Twins’ pitchers. Rozema ran out of the Tiger dugout and attempted a flying karate kick aimed at John Castino’s midsection but he missed while tearing eight ligaments in his knee. Rozema was carried off on a stretcher and the next day he underwent knee surgery that sidelined him for the season.

In 1983, Rozema came back from the injury wearing a knee brace and compiled an impressive 8-3 record and a 3.43 ERA in 105 innings pitched. During the Tigers 1984 World Championship season he started 16 games and compiled a 7-6 record with a 3.74 ERA in 101 innings. Two months after the World Series, Rozema signed as a free agent with the Texas Rangers where he would end his career in 1986. (I’ll never forget watching the Tiger telecast when Kirk Gibson stepped up to the plate in Texas to face his brother-in-law and best friend. Both players were grinning from ear-to-ear.)

In October 2006, Sports Illustrated selected Rozema as one of the “10 Greatest Characters in Detroit Tigers history.”

According to the magazine his selection was based upon:

“1) the famous “karate kick” misfire, 2) a subsequent injury the same year in which he fell on a flask in his back pocket and needed 11 stitches in his hip, 3) an incident in which he shoved a bar glass into the face of Alan Trammell resulting in 47 stitches near Trammell’s eye, 4) missing a team bus when he overslept after judging a wet t-shirt contest, and 5) using Brillo pads to wash his car.”

By the way, here’s how Sports Illustrated ranked the ten players.

  1. Mark Fidrych
  2. Norm Cash
  3. Boots Poffenberger
  4. Dave Rozema
  5. Ty Cobb
  6. Germany Schaefer
  7. Ron LeFlore
  8. Herbie Redmond (groundskeeper)
  9. Richie Hebner
  10. J.W. Porter.

Rozema still lives in the Detroit area and works for HBC Contracting in sales and marketing. He is also an integral part of the Detroit Tigers Fantasy Camps held in Lakeland, Florida, and at Comerica Park.

I can also tell you that Dave is one of the nicest and most approachable former ballplayers you will ever encounter.

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This Saturday, February 4th at Nemo’s Bar on Michigan Avenue near the Tiger Stadium site, Dave Rozema will be part of the 25th annual Babe Ruth Birthday Party. From 8 to 8:30 PM he will participate in a Q and A session and from 8:30 to 9:00 he will sign autographs and hang out with all the celebrants. There is no cover charge and the autographs are free. By the way, Babe Ruth’s grandson and great-grandson are scheduled to attend.

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