Mark Fidrych 1976-1980 “The Bird” is the undisputed ace of any staff of quirky characters. Fidrych was what you would get if a 12-year-old mischievous Little Leaguer who was perpetually hopped up on Skittles made a wish to be big at a Zoltar machine. He was gawky and goofy looking, but somehow still a heartthrob. He talked to the ball in between pitches and got on his hands and knees to tend to the pitcher’s mound before he’d start his innings. Moreover, he generally bounded all over the field like an overgrown kid. His image fit the ’70s as well as Don Draper’s image fits the early ’60s.
There was some substance behind the style. Fidrych posted a 2.34 ERA during 1976, his breakout rookie year that captivated baseball fans. He pitched just over 250 innings that season and controlled the game even though he only rang up 97 strikeouts. Then he had injuries, injuries that youngsters like me at the time denied would keep him from returning to form. Alas, we were wrong. Maybe the most telling thing about him was his upbeat take on life, even without baseball. His eventual flameout seemed to bother fans more than it did him. That was just one more reason his accidental death at home in 2009 was so sad. He had soared as high as you could soar in baseball. Then, he crashed to the earth with a shoulder injury that wasn’t diagnosed properly for nearly a decade. It could have been a tragic fall, but he didn’t seem to care because he simply loved to live. Unfairly, his life after baseball was gone when he died at age 54 in an accident on his farm. The big kid was working on his dump truck.
Dave Rozema 1977-1984 “Kung-Fu Rozema” makes the list from a reader suggestion. Rozema was another in an impressive list of Tigers farmhands who broke through in the late 1970s. Like Fydrich, Rozema had a terrific rookie season for Detroit. Like Fydrich, Rozema did it despite posting a relatively low strikeout rate. Rosy pitched just over 218 innings in 1977. He posted a 3.09 ERA and a 1.173 WHIP even though he only struck out 92 players.
Rozema’s penchant for the absurd helps him make this particular list. He was an admitted carouser who once suffered an injury falling on his flask. But, his attempt at a Roadhouse-style roundhouse kick during a brawl against the Minnesota Twins during the 1982 season earned him his “Kung Fu” nickname. He didn’t land the kick, but he did land on the disabled list and had to miss the remainder of the season. He played most of his career in Detroit, finishing with a 3.38 ERA in a little over 1000 innings pitched for the Tigers.
Kenny Rogers 2006-2008 Rozema’s famous kick may have missed its intended target, but a kick from Kenny once busted a television camera and that made Rogers notorious before he ever pitched an inning for Detroit. Rogers had lost his temper when reporters questioned his missed start due to a fractured pinkie he suffered a few days before, incredibly, in another angry outburst. Some thought Rogers was using the missed start to send a message to Rangers owner Tom Hicks surrounding a contract extension Rogers sought. Rogers didn’t appreciate the accusations and in a fit of rage demolished a camera and sent a cameraman to the hospital. MLB suspended him. Although that serves as a famous example of Rogers’ quirkiness, his odd behavior was not limited to angry outbursts. As a youngster, he reportedly fell asleep while watching the family strawberry farm and cost his father six acres of crop when it froze.
The next season, Rogers became known for more than his temper when he pitched lights out for Detroit in the postseason. Going into 2006, Rogers had a lifetime postseason record of 0-3. He had pitched 20.1 innings with an ERA of 8.85. Opponents’ OBP was .476. But it all turned around for him when Detroit ran over the Yankees, A’s, and Cardinals on their way to the World Series. In 23 innings against those three, he didn’t allow a run. He also secured Detroit’s only win in the World Series that year. It was a win that, befitting the subject of this series, is remembered as much for a mysterious glob of pine tar/dirt/mud that Rogers may have used to affect the ball as it is for his terrific performance on the field.
Matt Anderson 1998-2003 Before Justin Verlander, there was Matt Anderson. Anderson was a “can’t miss” number one overall pick in 1997, a junior out of Rice. He hit triple digits with his fastball, reportedly pushing the Juggs machine as high as 103 m.p.h. But the comparisons to Verlander ended there.
He also lived fast off the field. In 1999, he accepted a delivery package that contained marijuana; a package that he said was meant for his roommate. He denied the drugs were his, but during his career would admit to a fondness for ganster rap and fast cars. His manager, Phil Garner, once actually compared him to Fidrych due to his freewheeling ways. His best year in Detroit came in his first season, when he went 5-1 and struck out 44 batters in 44 innings. However, trouble signs were there, as he also walked 31 batters over the same, short time period. By 2001, Anderson got the walks down to a suitable level, but by then the once dominant fastball was all too hittable and aside from a brief comeback attempt with Colorado, his career was over a couple of years later.
Aurelio Lopez 1979-1985 “Senor Smoke” once said, “Oh, I don’t usually pitch very well in spring training. You see, I have some trouble with the daytime.” THT reader Charlie Reder told us in our comments how Lopez once walked over to his first baseman in the middle of an inning just to say, “Isn’t this exciting?” He was on the mound against San Diego in the 1984 World Series when Tigers catcher Lance Parrish flashed an unfortunate sign. Lopez didn’t have the best eyes, missed the sign, and fired his signature fastball right over the plate. When Parrish stepped out to catch what he thought would be a pitchout, Lopez’ heater went right into umpire Larry Barnett’s, um, nether regions.
Lopez had a 3.41 ERA and 1.258 WHIP in his Detroit career. He shined in the ’84 Championship season, when he only gave up 109 hits in 137.2 innings, had 14 Saves, and won 10 games. He was part of Detroit’s deadly endgame that included Willie Hernandez. Hernandez won the Cy Young Award and MVP, but Aurelio was damn good as well. In retirement, the likeable Lopez served as municipal president of Tecamachalco, his hometown in Mexico. Unfortunately, he died in 1992 in a car accident. He was too young, and joins way too many of these players I’ve chosen to write about, which makes me progressively sadder to chronicle a series we all thought would be fun.
Jose Lima 1994-1996 and 2001-2002″ Lima Time” spread its quirkiness over several teams. He was not good in his stints with Detroit, and outside of a 1999 season with the Houston Astros in which decent control somewhat offset his penchant for giving up tons of hits and homers, he was not very good any other time either. But, Lima was a self-described clown in the clubhouse. After the Tigers released him after his terrible 2002 season, Lima said- “If I can’t pitch on this team — the worst or second-worst team in baseball — where am I going to pitch? If I can’t start on this ballclub, I must be the worst pitcher on Earth.” He often danced, sang, and hopped around on the mound. And, fitting in with many others on these lists, he died too young. Lima passed away in his home at age 37 last year.
Kyle Farnsworth 2005 and 2008 He was awesome in ’05, terrible in ’08. “The Farns” was a little like Matt Anderson, just a little quicker to fight and a little slower on the fastball. Farnsworth could hit triple digits with his heat, but with little movement, a problem that Anderson also dealt with. One big difference in the two was their draft position. Anderson was the first overall pick for Detroit, but Farnsworth was selected in the 47th round when he was drafted. He always had a pretty good slider though, and the one-two punch eventually made him a good set up man. His other one-two punches got him on this list.
Before he ever made it to Detroit, and while pitching for the Chicago Cubs, Farnsworth threw inside to a bunting Paul Wilson. When Wilson charged, Kyle speared his counterpart in a move reminiscent of the WWE’s “Edge”. Farnsworth gained a bit of fame from his manhandling of Wilson through various internet memes and GIFs. He likely enjoyed the notoriety since he reportedly wore shirts with messages reading “Do I Look Like I’m a People Person?” to play on his muscled-up tough-guy image. Maybe that’s why, while with Detroit, Farnsworth broke out the move again in another brawl. He wasn’t in the game at the time, but after teammate Carlos Guillen got beaned, the Royals and Tigers squared off for the traditional semi-serious stand-off. Many of these situations are diffused, but when Royals reliever Jeremy Affeldt said or did something to light the “Farns”‘ fuse, Affeldt met the same fate as Paul Wilson. Farnsworth finished first in a poll conducted among major leaguers. The poll was titled, “What player would you least like to fight?”