Posted by: mdegeorge | May 24, 2010

Hope you’ve had a good (Lima) time: Remembering a baseball icon

Jose Lima, one of the most charismatic and colorful ballplayers Major League Baseball has seen in a great while, died suddenly today of a heart attack in his Los Angeles home. He was just 37 years of age.

The man who brought the world “Lima Time” compiled an 89-102 record over 13 seasons with five Major League Teams. His best season was in 1999, when he won 21 games for the Houston Astros and earned a spot in the All-Star Game.

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He last played in the Majors with the New York Mets in 2006. He has since played in the Dominican Baseball League, a season in the independent Golden Baseball League, and one failed stint playing in Korea. He recently began working with the Los Angeles Dodgers alumni association and was planning on starting a baseball academy for young children in LA.

He is survived by his wife and five children.

Love him or hate him, he’s no doubt one of the most unique figures to ever ascend the hill. In his foul-line jumping, fist-pumping, national-anthem singing, bachata-loving, exuberant honor, here are some highlights (and lowlights) of his 13-year career.

July 5, 1989

17-year-old Lima signs with the Detroit Tigers as an amateur free agent. He struggles in his first season of professional baseball the following summer, going 3-8 with a 5.02 ERA with Bristol of the Appalachian League.

April 20, 1994

After four years and change in the minors, Lima makes his MLB debut for the Tigers, an 11-6 loss against the Kansas City Royals. He surrenders six earned runs on five hits and two walks over four innings, surrendering home runs to Dave Henderson and Gary Gaetti. David Cone gets the win for the Roayls. He made two more appearances in that strike-shortened season, both in relief.

August 12, 1995

Lima starts the season all the way back in High A Ball, but works his way back to AAA Toledo and eventually to the big league club after the strike ends. He makes his season debut on July 13, and after getting roughed up and taking losses from three of his first five starts, he finally notches his first victory at Milwaukee, 8-2. He allows four hits and two earned runs over six quality innings with the only blemish a John Valentin home run. Lou Whitaker has four RBI’s to provide the offensive support. He started 15 games that season for the Tigers, compiling a 3-9 record and a 6.11 ERA for a 60-84 team.

May 19, 1996

Lima has his fifth straight disastrous outing to start the season and is sent down to the minors. He is 0-4 with a 7.82 ERA in four starts and has already been yanked from the starting rotation.

December 10, 1996

Lima gets the change of scenery he so badly needs after another poor season for he and the Tigers. He returned to the big league club on July 4 and pitched well out of the bullpen, repairing his record to 5-6 with three saves in seven chances and six holds in 39 appearances for the putrid Tigers, who record what was then the second worst season (53-109) in franchise history. Lima is part of a major house-cleaning that sends Brad Ausmus, Trever Miller, C.J. Nitkoswki, and Daryle Ward to the Astros for Doug Brocail, Brian Hunter, Todd Jones, Orlando Miller, and cash.

June 6, 1998

Lima struggles in his first season with the ’Stros, finishing with a 1-6 record, 5.28 ERA, three saves and two holds in 52 appearances out of the bullpen. He’s included in the starting rotation to start the ’98 campaign, and Lima rewards manager Larry Dierker’s optimism with a breakout season in helping the team to its second-straight NL Central title. Lima compiles an impressive 16-8 record and 3.70 ERA. The season highlight may have been his June 6 five-hit shutout over the Royals. He doesn’t pitch for the Astros in the postseason though, and they are eliminated in the NLDS.

July 13, 1999

The histrionics were on full display as Lima has his career season, combining with Mike Hampton to form one of the most formidable 1-2 punches in the league. He goes 21-10 (Hampton finishes 22-4) and both earn a trip to the 1999 All-Star game at Fenway Park. Lima pitches a scoreless fifth inning (after Kent Bottenfield), surrendering a lone single to Shawn Green. Lima finishes fourth in the NL Cy Young voting and helps lead the Astros to their third straight NL Central crown, but loses his lone playoff start (nine hits and four earned runs in 6.2 innings in Game 2) as Houston again crashes out of the NLDS at the hands of the Braves.

July 4, 2000

The dawning of the new millennium spells disaster for the Astros, who drop to fourth in the division after three straight years on top. Lima’s decline is just as drastic. One year prior, he was 13-4 and pitching in the All-Star game. At the same juncture the following season, he is 1-13 with a 7.52 ERA. His 13th loss comes in a three-inning effort against Arizona in which he gives up seven earned runs on five hits and three walks. He finishes 7-16 with a 6.65 ERA in 33 starts, and earns the dubious distinction of most home runs ever given up in a single season by an NL pitcher with 48.

June 23, 2001

Mired in another unsuccessful season, the Houston honeymoon ends for Lima when he’s traded back to the Tigers for John Milacki. At the time of the trade, Lima was 1-2 with a 7.30 ERA and had lost his spot in the starting rotation. He was restored to the rotation in Detroit for yet another stellar Tigers’ team, and finished the season 6-12 with a 5.54 ERA.

September 7, 2002

Lima is released by the Tigers after another sub-par season. He bounces between the rotation and the ’pen—and two stints on the disabled list—with a 4-6 record and an ERA near eight. In his final appearance on August 24, he allows 11 ER in 2.2 innings, and leaves Detroit for the second time with a tumultuous relationship with fans who have endured the worst season in Tigers’ history and second worst season ever in MLB.

June 4, 2003

Lima, now 30, resurrects his career with a 6-1 record in the independent Atlantic League with the Newark Bears, and is signed by Kansas City. He’s a revelation for the only Royals team to break .500 in the last decade and a half, winning seven of his eight starts and finishing 8-3 record. The only thing that could slow him all season was a recurrent groin injury that twice landed him on the DL.

January 28, 2004

Despite an excellent albeit abbreviated season, Lima didn’t figure into the Royals’ long-term plans, and he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent. He was a long reliever and spot starter to start the season, but by the end of May had forced his way into the rotation on a permanent basis. He finished the regular season with a 13-5 record and 4.01 ERA in 36 appearances and managed to stay off the DL.

October 9, 2004

What many consider to be the best performance of his career, Lima throws a five-hit shutout in Game 3 of the 2004 NLDS against the Cardinals. He only allowed one base runner to reach third base en route to the 109-pitch gem with the Dodgers facing elimination and seeking their first postseason win since the 1988 World Series. The Cardinals came back to win Game 4 and the series en route to the NL Pennant, but the masterpiece by Lima is nonetheless fondly remembered by Dodgers’ fans.

December 2, 2004

Lima was granted free agency by the Dodgers after the playoffs was in search of new home when he made headlines for his off-the-field issues. He was ordered to pay nearly a million dollars in damages to a woman who said she contracted genital herpes from him. Despite the irritating revelation, he was singed by the Royals three weeks later.

October 27, 2005

Lima was allowed to walk from the Royals after a disastrous season. He allowed 31 homers in 32 starts, finishing 5-16 record with an ERA a shade under 7.

February 14, 2006

Lima’s Valentine’s Day gift from comes from the New York Mets, who take a flier on him by signing him to a minor-league deal. He begins the season with AAA Norfolk and rises to the Bigs on May 7.

July 7, 2006

Lima is designated for assignment for the second time in two months. He lost his first three starts, giving up 14 ER in 14.1 innings pitched, and accepted a trip back to Norfolk. His contract was purchased for a spot start, but allowed seven runs (five earned) in three innings, highlighted by a grand slam by Marlins’ pitcher Dontrelle Willis. Lima again headed to AAA, where he finished the season 7-8.

2007

Lima goes 13-4 in 22 starts with the Saltillo Saraperos of the AAA Mexican League.

April 16, 2008

The Kia Tigers of the Korean Baseball Organization release Lima after less than one season (guess there’s just something about him and bottom-dwelling teams nicknamed “Tigers” that didn’t work on any continent). He started the season with several shaky performances and, after a stint in the minors, rebounded, but was released nonetheless.

July 31, 2009

Lima is dealt by the Long Beach Armada of the Golden Baseball League to the Edmonton Fleet in exchange for former White Sox hurler Kris Honel. It would be his final professional team.

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