In 1976, Detroit Tiger fans were delighted at the pitching and antics of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, who won the American League Rookie of the Year Award that season. The following year, Detroit was blessed with another fine rookie season by a right-handed hurler, this time a Grand Rapids native with a vicious changeup pitch. That youngster, Dave Rozema, would prove to be every bit as much a flake as “The Bird” in many different ways. He also contributed to the Tigers last World Series championship.
As a rookie, Rozema arrived on the scene in style. After quality starts in his first two starts of the season, Rozema twirled a four-hit shutout of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, allowing just four hits. He won three games in May and two more in June, receiving spotty run support as he took some hard-luck losses and no-decisions. He had quality starts in 11 of his first 15 starts that year. In July, Rozema went 4-1, spinning four complete game victories. He was even more effective, winning five games, with his only loss coming in a complete game where his teammates only scored one run for him. He had 15 wins on the season and was among the hottest rookies in the game.
In September, Rozema started two games but was beat around pretty good, losing both. Out of the division race, the Tigers chose to shut down his 21-year old arm for the season. He finished with a 15-7 mark and a 3.09 ERA (ninth in the league). Rozema finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting and eighth in the Cy Young vote. It was a promising freshman campaign, and with Fidrych on schedule to return from an injury, the Detroit rotation looked great with the two youngsters for 1978.
But, unfortunately things didn’t work out that way. Fidrych never returned to his stellar rookie form, injuring his knee and then tearing the rotator cuff nearly through on his pitching arm. Rozema was healthy in ’78, posting nearly the same ERA (3.12) in the same number of starts (28), but he managed to only win nine games. It was the most he’d ever win in a season after his rookie season. In 1979, the big right-hander suffered an arm injury and appeared in only 16 games. In 1980 and 1981, now playing under manager Sparky Anderson, Rozema continued to have injury problems and fell out of favor, being relegated to the bullpen.
Back in the rotation in 1982, “Rosy” was involved in his most infamous incident. After starting the year 3-0 with a glittering 1.63 ERA, Rozema seemed poised to give Sparky a full year of pitching excellence. With fellow righties Jack Morris and Dan Petry, an effective Rozema could give the Tigers a talented top three in the rotation.
On May 14, in a game against the Minnesota Twins in Tiger Stadium, Detroit batters Enos Cabell and Chet Lemon were brushed back, and Lemon was hit by a pitch from Twins pitcher Pete Redfern. When a brawl occurred, Rozema came charging from the Tiger dugout intent on delivering a karate kick to a Minnesota player. Unfortunately, Rozema missed and fell to the ground, having twisted his knee. Once the dust was settled, Rozema was carted from the field on a stretcher. His best friend, teammate Kirk Gibson, later won the game on a walk-off extra-innings homer. But the damage was done – Rozema had surgery on the knee the next day and was out for the remainder of the season.
Two years later, Rozema was a contributor to the magical ’84 Tigers team, winning seven games in 16 starts. He didn’t appear in the post-season, but he has a ring. He was out of baseball two years later after a brief run with the Texas Rangers.
The infamous karate kick wasn’t the only goofy episode of Rozema’s career. The pitcher once playfully shoved a drinking glass in the face of teammate Alan Trammell, a stunt that caused Trammell to have 47 stitches near his eye. Once, Gibson shoved Rozema off his stool in the Tiger clubhouse. Unfortunately, Rozema had a bottle of cough syrup in his back pocket, and after landing on it, had to have stitches in his posterior. Rozema remains the butt of jokes for some of the (supposed) airhead moves he made as a young Tiger farmhand, including washing his new car with brillo pads.
On the mound, when he was right, Rozema was a fine big league pitcher. Only once over a full season did he post an ERA as high as 4.00, and he had a career mark of 3.47. In eight years with the Tigers, Rozema was a phenom, a bust, a goofy sidekick, an effective swingman who could start or relieve, and an entertaining teammate.