“(Rozema) had his fun, though. Maybe that’s all he was in it for. Mission accomplished.
Rick Porcello wants to have fun, too, I’m sure. He just wants to do it more responsibly and with more long-term success.”
There’s no telling how good Dave Rozema could have been, if only he’d taken his career seriously.
Rozema, “Rosie” to his adoring fans and to some of the more informal members of the media, was what some of us old-timers used to call players of his ilk, a “flake.”
The flake was the odd, the goofy, the unstable player. He could be a fun-loving flake or someone you’d just as soon not be alone with in the same room.
Baseball has been full of them. I think it’s the long season, being cooped up with the same guys from February till October, that can cause some guys to get flaky. Or worse.
Alex Johnson was a Detroit kid, grown up on the west side. His brother, Ron, was a star football player who thrilled the folks in Ann Arbor as a running back for U-M before having a decent career in the NFL.
Alex was…different. A flake? Perhaps. Or maybe just plain weird.
A.J., as they called him, was a terrific hitter. He won the 1970 A.L. batting title. But he was strangely unhappy most of the time. A professional might even call him paranoid and/or depressed. Alex Johnson was a good baseball player who thought everyone was out to get him.
Once, while playing for the Angels, Johnson accused teammate Chico Ruiz of waving a gun in his face in the locker room. Ruiz denied it. Johnson stuck to his story.
Johnson played for the Tigers in his last season, in 1976. Folks around town made a big deal of A.J. coming home, finally, to play big league ball, but I don’t think Johnson cracked so much as a grin while he was here. Then again, A.J. never did smile much. At all.
Dave Rozema happened upon the scene in 1977. One year after Mark “The Bird” Fidrych thrilled baseball audiences. Rozema’s fastball couldn’t break a pane of glass, but he could get hitters out with precision control and changing speeds. Rosie was 21, fun-loving, and a jokester during his rookie season in ’77.
Rozema was the antithesis of Alex Johnson. Where A.J. moped and brooded, Rosie always had a smirk on his face. He was the cat who ate the canary. Then he fell in with Kirk Gibson and that’s what did him in.
Rosie and Gibby. What a pair!
They partied together. They dated sisters – “exotic dancers”, to boot. Then they eventually married them. Gibson, a self-admitted jerk in his formative big league years, was hardly the best influence on the impressionable, flaky Rozema.
Rozema’s career moved on, decently, but never did he truly improve upon his 15-win rookie campaign. He had the talent. He had the ability. He just didn’t seem to have the moxie.
Then, in a moment of foolishness in 1982, Rosie sealed his fate for good.
The Twins and the Tigers brawled at Tiger Stadium. As far as baseball fights go, this one was pretty brutal. It was the kind where fists truly flew and the potential for something dangerous to happen was high.
Enter Rozema. Literally.
He came from the dugout, or the bullpen – not sure which – and spotted Twins player John Castino. Rosie got up a running start and, leaving his feet, tried to execute a Jackie Chan-like karate kick at Castino.
Rosie blew out his knee trying to impersonate Chan.
Tigers manager Sparky Anderson wasn’t amused.
Rozema was even less the same after his karate kick. But he didn’t learn his lesson.
A couple years later, Rozema was goofing around in the Tigers clubhouse and, while clowning, fell on his rear end. A small glass jar of medicine that was in his back pants pocket broke. He got cut up in his…posterior.
Sparky wasn’t amused again.
The Tigers eventually let Rozema go, and he ended up with the Texas Rangers. While with the Rangers, Rosie, in a relief appearance, ended up facing Kirk Gibson one night down in Arlington. The TV cameras caught Rozema giggling like an eighth-grader, unable to keep a straight face, as he prepared to pitch to his friend Gibby.
Rozema’s karate kick was immortalized in a bobble head doll last summer at a minor league game in Grand Rapids
The Tigers, in 2009, have themselves a young stud named Rick Porcello. He’s a 20-year-old right-hander who doesn’t have a whole lot of professional experience but who has baseball folks dismissing that forthwith. This is because Porcello possesses a golden right arm that has the real possibility of thrilling baseball fans in Detroit for years to come.
But it’s not just Porcello’s talent for throwing a baseball that has impressed folks down in Florida this spring training. It’s also his demeanor. The veteran players love how he conducts himself.
“He’s the kind of pitcher who, if he gives up a home run or something, just asks for the ball and says, ‘Let’s go’,” said designated hitter Gary Sheffield, no less, a couple weeks ago. “He doesn’t let anything bother him.”
The accolades regarding Porcello’s arm have been out there since last summer. Now they’re starting to pour in about his head. The words are similes of the best kind.
Composed. Mature. Unflappable. Focused.
And so on.
Porcello has a shot, albeit an outside one, to make the Tigers’ Opening Day roster. Manager Jim Leyland’s starting rotation is a little in shambles right now, due to injuries and others not doing so great. And Porcello, save one shaky outing on Thursday, has pitched well.
“It’s an honor to still be here and still have a chance,” Porcello said the other day.
On other occasions, Porcello has been one of his toughest critics. He already has that perfectionist thing about him. A lot of the great pitchers have that gene.
Dave Rozema was out of baseball by age 30. The karate kick didn’t help. But the kick was merely symptomatic of his bigger issue, which was a distinct lack of professionalism in his approach toward the game.
He had his fun, though. Maybe that’s all he was in it for. Mission accomplished.
Rick Porcello wants to have fun, too, I’m sure. He just wants to do it more responsibly and with more long-term success.
If only someone was able to give Rozema’s head that final screw to the right. Just another quarter turn might have done it. Oh well; you amused us, David, if nothing else.