05/23/10 5:30 PM ET
Former big leaguer Lima dead at 37
Thirteen-year veteran died of heart attack on Sunday
By Bailey Stephens / MLB.com
"Jose was disturbed in his sleep, I thought he was having a nightmare. I called the paramedics, but there was nothing they could do," Dorca Astacio, Lima's wife, told ESPN Deportes' Enrique Rojas.
According to Astacio, Lima was not experiencing any health problems prior to the heart attack.
Lima, a native of the Dominican Republic, pitched in the Major Leagues for 13 seasons, from 1994-2006. After breaking into the big leagues with the Tigers in 1994, Lima went on to compile an 89-102 career record to go with a 5.26 ERA. His best season came in 1999 as a member of the potent Houston Astros rotation. Lima posted a 21-10 record that season, along with a 3.58 ERA. In addition to the Astros and Tigers, the fiery right-hander also spent time with the Royals, Dodgers and Mets. In his final year in the big leagues, 2006, Lima went 0-4 for the Mets.
Before Sunday's games, Lima's untimely passing was recognized with a moment of silence in Houston, Kansas City and Los Angeles, cities in which the late pitcher was widely celebrated.
His five years in Houston, arguably the best in his career, were enough to make an indelible impression on those in the organization.
"It saddened me greatly to hear of Jose's passing," Astros owner Drayton McLane said in a statement released by the club. "He had an outstanding career with the Astros and won 21 games in 1999 on one of our greatest teams ever. He was truly a gifted person, both on the field and off of it. He could dance, he could sing, but his best gift of all was that he was an extremely happy person. He just lit up our clubhouse with his personality, which was his greatest asset. Jose was not shortchanged in life in any way. He lived life to the fullest every day."
His success on the mound was only part of what made Lima a unique figure in baseball. As reaction spilled out from around the Majors on Sunday, it became clear: Lima's charm and passionate approach to baseball had won him fans in the clubhouse and in the stands all across the league. Indeed, Lima's personality was what really made him stand out, Astros president of baseball operations Tal Smith said on Sunday.
"Jose was one of the memorable and will be one of the most unforgettable characters we ever had that played for the Astros," Smith said. "He just had a great flair and enthusiasm for life and for pitching and singing and dancing. He was a great performer, and for two years, he was a very successful pitcher."
Throughout the day on Sunday, as word trickled through clubhouses, expressions of grief came forward from those who got to see Lima at his best on the mound: his former teammates.
"Obviously, it's shocking," Astros first baseman Lance Berkman said. "He was a great teammate. He had a lot of energy, and he had such a good run here for those three or four years and was entertaining on and off the field. Just a great guy to have around."
Former Astros teammate Craig Biggio echoed Berkman's thoughts, highlighting Lima's role as a team player.
"A lot of people remember him for his actions on the mound, but he was a great teammate," Biggio said. "He wanted everybody to be successful. He wanted to win and do his job, which we did, but he wanted everybody to be as successful as he was. He was very genuine. The baseball family lost a good guy."
Brandon Inge, who played with Lima in Detroit in 2002, singled him out as "one of the good guys in the game."
"He just an all-around good guy, a great teammate," Inge said. "He was just fun to be around. He's going to be badly missed in baseball."
While Lima will perhaps be best remembered for his contributions on the mound, both physical and emotional, it was the loss of the man himself that Royals DH Jose Guillen was mourning on Sunday.
"He was a good friend of mine; we were real close. I [talked] to him every year and when I [went to the Dominican Republic], I [saw] him and we always talked," Guillen said. "This is a shock."
Jeff Weaver, Lima's former teammate in Detroit and Los Angeles, agreed.
"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."
Everywhere he played, Lima proved to be a fan favorite, as his animated appearances became known as "Lima Time." His enthusiastic gestures and emotion drew Lima a lot of attention and sometimes even negative reactions from opposing teams, but to those who knew him closely, like former teammate Brad Ausmus, that was just his personality.
"Playing with him you come to realize that the energy you see on the mound isn't a false persona, that's Jose Lima," Brad Ausmus, who played with Lima in Detroit and Houston, said on Sunday. "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."
In his mound antics, however, many of his competitors saw someone who possessed an intensely competitive nature and passion for baseball at the highest level.
"He was a great competitor," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He had a real love for the game, with the way he played and the enthusiasm he showed. Sometimes he didn't have his best stuff, but you liked the way he battled and competed."
In 2004, Lima competed his way into playoff history as a member of the Dodgers, as he fired a five-hit shutout against the Cardinals for L.A.'s only win in the National League Division Series. Lima remained a beloved figure in Los Angeles, often attending Dodgers games. He took in Friday's Interleague game against the Tigers with his son Jose Jr.
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt spoke highly of Lima in a statement released by the team on Sunday:.
"We are shocked and saddened to learn of the tragic loss of Jose Lima. Though he was taken from us way too soon, he truly lived his life to the fullest and his personality was simply unforgettable. He had the ability to light up a room and that's exactly what he did every time I saw him. His memorable contributions to the Dodgers in 2004 and throughout baseball will always be remembered. Our deepest condolences and prayers go out to his family during this extremely difficult time."
Lima continued to play baseball after his departure from the Majors, appearing in 22 games in 2007 for the Saltillo Saraperos of the Mexican League and making 11 appearances with the Camden Riversharks of the independent Atlantic League in 2008. He also pitched in the Golden League in 2009, playing for the Long Beach Armada before being traded to the Edmonton Capitals.
Lima never gave up his hope of returning to the big leagues.
"I'm just waiting for that phone call," Lima told MLB.com while playing for the Armada last season. "I know that break is coming."
As recently as this past offseason, Lima's enthusiasm for the game was still in full tilt, as he pitched for the Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League.
"He just loved the game," said Tigers catcher Alex Avila, who faced Lima this past winter. "That was the kind of guy he was, or at least the impression that I got. When we faced him, he'd talk to everybody. I'm out there warming up, and he ran over to me and said, 'Hi'. My impression was, he was doing it because he loved playing baseball. I mean, he was still enjoying it like he was a kid out there. It was great to see."
His energy level for baseball was so high at the time of his death, in fact, that on Saturday, just one day before his passing, Lima had distributed a press release announcing the opening of his own Dominican Baseball School in Los Angeles.
The release announcing the school promised that, in addition to enhancing children's baseball skills on the diamond, the school would also focus on "showing each and every player how to appreciate, understand, and love the game just as much as Jose does and always has."
Bailey Stephens is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.