Goodbye, Mr. Lima!

Jose Lima: He leaves some happy memories and a short record of great accomplishment in baseball..

The news of Jose Lima’s death at age 37 hits all of us who followed his baseball career with equal amounts of shock and sadness. This is one of those times in which the written words of immediate reaction are coming out in all kinds of ways on the mind crank of familiarity.

A fellow who “lived life to the fullest,” Jose Lima walked through each day as a happy man, making everyone around him happy too. At his foremost in the 1999 Astros season, he performed as one of the best starting pitchers in the big leagues, winning 21 games against 10 losses and registering a 3.58 earned run average for his playoff-bound club. He also sold the benefits of delicious Mexican food from Casa Ole restaurants on television commercials with a peppery song, a Latin-moves dance, and a universal happy-face smile thrown in to boot for good measure. It all came together and worked beautifully.

The man had tremendous ability, but like a number of other fine and potentially great pitchers, he also possessed a vulnerable psyche to the prospect of  moving from the spacious Astrodome, the scene of his great 1999 season, to pitching in a new ballpark with a short left field porch with the opening of Enron Field in 2000.

In his last 1999 Astrodome year, Jose Lima (BR/TR) have up 0only 30 home runs in 246.1 innings pitched.In his first 2000 Enron Field year, with the 315-feet away Crawford Boxes looming out there from him down the left field line, Lima surrendered 48 home runs in only 196.1 innings of work.

Now, in fairness, all the homers that Lima gave up in those two season were not hit only at the Astrodome and Enron Field, and all the Enron Field homers were not simply dink-and-drop blows that barely lipped the 315-feet mark. Homers were hit elsewhere – and many of the Enron Field long balls at Enron would have just about cleared the Grand Canyon walls on a north-to-south tim track.

The point was in (or on) Lima’s head. From his first sight of the park that we used to squeeze into as “Enron Field,” Jose Lima was psychologically defeated. He simply could not pitch there. I don’t how many times it happened, but it often worked out that Jose Lima would respond to giving up a critical long ball by surrendering another to the very next man, and sometimes, on the very next pitch.

One time, when the pattern was already established,  my then 15-year old son Neal and I were there for a 2000 Enron Field game when Lima gave up a monster shot to left center. “Just watch out for what happens on the first pitch to the next guy,” I told Neal. “He’s going to hit one out too!”

When it then happened, Neal grabbed me by the arm and asked, “Dad, how did you you know that was going to happen?”

“Just lucky,” I told Neal. Then I went on to explain how many time we had seen Lima just groove a pitch down the middle of the plate after giving up a home run. And that’s what he had done again here. Neal seemed both relieved and distressed to know that one didn’t have to possess psychic abilities to predict a home run off a pitch from Jose Lima during the 2000 season. It happened too often to be wrong a lot – and these weren’t cheap shots either.

By the early part of 2001, as you may recall, Jose Lima was sent dancing back to Detroit, from whence he had come to Houston after the 1996 season. Other than an 8-3 year with the Royals in 2003 and a 13-5 mark with the Dodgers in 2004, Jose Lima would never have another big league season that came even close to his 1999 record year with the Astros.

Somewhere along the way, Jose Lima also organized a Latin rhythm band and installed himself as the lead singer. Unlike Cuba’s Desi Arnaz, however, it wasn’t in the cards for happy Jose Lima of the Dominican Republic to be looking for a Lucille Ball equivalent to help him make the transition to big time success in show business. Besides, as far as we know, Jose had a happy marriage and family life and wasn’t even looking for a Lucy to love. He just loved baseball and he had happy feet for music and dancing,

I met Jose Lima only once at an RBI banquet dinner in 2005. He was as happy that night as I always imagined him to be – and he came dressed in an outfit that seemed to express that upbeat mood. It looked like one of those zoot suits from the 1940s, but what do I know? It probably was just one of those new trendy styles that never reaches the extant attention of people like me.

All I know is that Jose Lima was nice and friendly, with a bright smile, and that he greeted me like a long lost friend. He just made you feel good all over – and right away.

Jose Lima was born on September 30, 1972 in Santiago, Dominican Republic. He died in his sleep in Los Angeles on May 23, 2010 at his home in Los Angeles, California. At the time of his death, Lima was still on board to play winter ball in his native country. He had concluded his 13-season major league career (1994-2006) with a record of 89 wins, 102 losses, and ERA of 5.26 in variable stints with the Tigers, Astros, Royals, Dodgers, and Mets.

The world needs more people like Jose Lima. His death at age 37 comes as a saddening shock and yes, another wake-up-and-smell-the-roses reminder. – Breathe life deep everyday, folks. Nobody has a guarantee on tomorrow. And nobody lives forever.

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2 Responses to “Goodbye, Mr. Lima!”

  1. David Munger Says:

    It would be great if we all could fit a LITTLE LIMA TIME into our daily lives.

  2. Wayne Roberts Says:

    I believe Richard Justice’s column today mentioned that any parent whose child’s game experience was heightened by Lima’s attention could never forget him. Count me as one parent who appreciated Jose taking the time to sign autographs and talk to my then 10 year old daughter Erika and her friend Emma. Although his shtick sometimes wore on me I never forgot the joy he brought to young fans through his own honest love for the game and its fans. God Bless, Jose. Heaven’s a better place with Lima Time. We in Texas certainly were.

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