Dodgers recall Lima's infectious personality
Righty won 13 in '04 for LA, made regular visits to games
LOS ANGELES -- Jeff Weaver ran into former teammate Jose Lima at Dodger Stadium on Friday -- just two nights ago -- when Lima was making one of his regular appearances waving to fans, taking in a game.
The two had pitched together for the Tigers in 2002, a few years after "Lima Time" became a league-wide spectacle, and were again teammates with the Dodgers in 2004. Lima asked Weaver about his infant son and they exchanged a hug. Later on, Lima was shown on the main screen and received a standing ovation.
"Every time he's been here at games, we've always talked to each other," Weaver said. "Just kind of takes you a second to figure out how quick things can change, especially at his age."
Sunday morning, Weaver and the rest of the Dodgers learned as they arrived at Dodger Stadium that Lima had died of a heart attack Sunday morning at his Los Angeles-area home. He was 37.
"It's a hard day," Weaver said. "He was full of energy, loved life. It was definitely Lima Time, you know? He was a lot of fun to be around. Infectious, entertaining."
"We are shocked and saddened to learn of the tragic loss of Jose Lima," Dodgers owner Frank McCourt said. "Though he was taken from us way too soon, he truly lived his life to the fullest and his personality was simply unforgettable."
The Dodgers and Tigers, both former teams of Lima's, observed a moment of silence shortly before first pitch Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium.
Lima's brother, Joel, also a right-handed pitcher, is in his third Minor League season with the Dodgers. The 20-year-old pitched in the Dominican summer League each of the past two seasons, going a combined 4-3 with a 2.71 ERA in 39 games, two of which were starts. He struck out 57 and walked just 14.
The best of Jose Lima's 13 seasons in the big leagues came in 1999 as a member of the Astros when he went 21-10 with a 3.58 ERA.
For the Dodgers in 2004, Lima went 13-5 with a 4.07 ERA, leading the team to its first division title since 1995. Lima came to Spring Training that season as a non-roster invitee, and finished it by throwing a complete game, five-hit shutout in Game 3 of the National League Division Series -- the team's first postseason victory since winning the World Series in 1988.
A musician as well as a ballplayer, Lima's band performed at the annual Dodgers' Viva Los Dodgers celebration that season. Catcher Brad Ausmus, who was traded with Lima from the Tigers to the Astros in 1996, remembered hearing Lima's music in the clubhouse.
"High energy, always in a good mood, loved to sing," said Ausmus', Lima's teammate in Detroit in 1996 through 1998, and in Houston in 2001. "We had to listen to his demo tape all the time in the locker room. Now it's a fond memory. Back then, it was annoying."
Lima this month had joined the Dodger Alumni Association and was preparing to open a youth baseball academy in Los Angeles this summer. He was also interested to perform at a Viva Los Dodgers event again this season.
"Last thing I did with him was golf in 2004. It was in Arizona on an off-day, he was willing to teach you anything," Dodgers clubhouse manager Mitch Poole said. "It's just shocking. I talked to him for a while [on Friday], he was actually coaching at a high school. He's helping out a phenom at a high school in Pasadena. He was over there, he's helping him throw a changeup."
Manny Ramirez, who was born in the Dominican Republic like Lima, would see Lima at home during offseasons.
"I saw him, I said hi to him [on Friday]," said Ramirez, who has rarely spoken to media this season. "In the Dominican he would stop by the house and say hi to my dad all the time."
Lima, known for his eccentric antics on the mound and emotional outbursts, was just as intense a person off the field, according to Ausmus. Manager Joe Torre, who was informed by a reporter of Lima's passing, said how sad he was, and talked about the league's perception of a pitcher he said he knew only casually.
"You don't know if he had confidence in himself or if he was trying to convince himself and everybody else that he did," Torre said. "He was a showman, hot dog, but he'd win games."
Ausmus saw Lima a little differently.
"Playing with him you come to realize that the energy you see on the mound isn't a false persona, that's Jose Lima," said Ausmus, who also played with Darryl Kile, Andujar Cedeno and Ken Caminiti, all ballplayers who died at an early age. "He acts like that all the time, he's always happy-go-lucky, jumping around, joking, laughing. So that's who he is. There's nothing fake about him in that sense.
"There are times when opposing teams or players would get upset with the way he carries himself, but that was his energy. Even on days he wasn't pitching he was like that. If it's honest emotion, I don't think anybody would really have a problem with it. But you have to get to know him to know that's how he is."
Evan Drellich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.