- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
- 0 Shares
LOS ANGELES -- There aren't many people left in the Dodgers' organization who were around for that magical 2004 season, when the team's unexpected run to a division title was fueled, at least in part, by the introduction of Lima Time.
That was the name Jose Lima, who died early Sunday at 37 from what his wife said was a heart attack, gave to whatever day he was scheduled to pitch. In 2004, his lone season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he made 24 starts and 12 relief appearances, going 13-5 with a 4.07 ERA. In a National League Division Series game against St. Louis that fall, he pitched a five-hit shutout, giving the Dodgers their only postseason victory in 19 years.
But what Lima brought to that team off the field might have been more important than anything he did on the mound.
"The biggest thing I remember is just the energy he brought to that team,'' said Dodgers bullpen catcher Rob Flippo, one of the few holdovers from that season. "He just had kind of a youthful energy, which was an important thing for our team at that time because we had a pretty laid back club. You could certainly see a little more life in the team when he took the mound. You knew there was always going to be something humorous from him.''
The Dodgers had signed Lima to a minor league contract that January, general manager Dan Evans and assistant Kim Ng picking him up from baseball's bargain bin at a time when the former 21-game winner's career had seemingly hit the skids. But he easily made the club out of camp and eventually worked his way into the starting rotation.
"It's a real shame. He was a wonderful man, a wonderful friend," Evans said. "He may have died young, but he didn't get cheated in the years he had. He enjoyed life to the fullest. I haven't been around many people like that. He had such an infectious personality that, anytime you were with him, he made you feel better about yourself. I wish we could all have the passion in life that this rare person did. I appreciated him for that."
His gregarious personality made him a natural leader in the clubhouse, and he treated everyone -- teammates, reporters, fans -- the same. He routinely ignored the longstanding tradition of starting pitchers not giving pregame interviews on the day they pitch, sometimes holding long conversations with beat writers before starting his pregame routine.
He even sang the national anthem before one game against Cincinnati at Dodger Stadium on a day when he wasn't pitching, as his wife stood at his side on the field.
"Sometimes, I think people take for granted the fact that you're playing a baseball game for a living," Flippo said. "But this guy never lost sight of that."
Mitch Poole, the Dodgers' longtime clubhouse manager, said Lima had at least one profound effect on him during one trip to Arizona, where the team at that time stayed at a golf resort.
"He got me to play golf,'' Poole said. "And you can ask anybody who knows me, I never golf. That was the last time in my life I ever played. ... He loved being a Dodger, absolutely loved it. I remember him saying that. For three years [before he signed], I would see him here [as a visiting player], and he would always talk about how much he would love to play for the Dodgers one day.
"And then he finally got his dream."
Lima might have been best known for his emotional antics on the field. He often would react to strikeouts or big outs in key situations by shouting and pumping his fists, something that would sometimes rankle opponents who didn't quite know what to make of the demonstrative Lima, who often said it was never his intent to show up the other team in any way.
"When you see him on the other side, you think he's goofy," Flippo said. "But when he's on your team, it's kind of neat. But it has always been really genuine."
Lima, who had joined the Dodgers Alumni Association about three weeks ago, was at Dodger Stadium for Friday night's game against Detroit. He was shown on the video board in left field, and he responded by standing and waving to the crowd, which gave him a loud ovation.
"It's so sad," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "He was just here the other night. His energy was infectious. He was a showman and a hot dog, but he won games. He willed himself to do it. And he always had a smile on his face."
Dodger public relations executive Josh Rawitch said Lima had recently agreed to rejoin the organization to work in community relations. He was scheduled to make an appearance at a Lancaster High School baseball banquet.
"He was coming back into the family," Rawitch said.
He was planning to start a summer baseball academy, having worked out a deal with Pasadena city officials to use park space. Almost 300 applicants had already signed up, according to Evans. Lima was going to ask former teammates to make appearances and offer instruction.
"Jose really wanted to give back to the game, give back to the youth of this country and he thought the way to do it was through launching this academy," Evans said. "He was absolutely effervescent about it. It was exciting to watch him start this new venture. He was having so much fun seeing it come to fruition.
"Most guys have a difficult time making the transition from their playing days, but for Jose, there was no transition at all. He was hard at work on this academy. The day was never long enough for Jose."
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Los Angeles writer Steve Springer contributed to this report.
Dodgers remember Jose Lima's spirit and energy.