Jose Lima was a good dude. It took me a while to figure that out, but eventually I did. Jose was definitely a good guy. I’ve gotta admit, early on as a guy playing against him, his act could easily rub you the wrong way. But being around him on a daily basis as a teammate (Dodgers, Royals) gave me a different perspective.
Jose was cut from a different cloth than most. He was a different cat. He was a lot of things at the same time. He was loud, a tad obnoxious (in a good way), a showman, and a hot dog.
But he was also a heck of a good ballplayer, a good teammate, a hard worker, and a benefit to baseball in general. And make no mistake about it, Jose Lima loved baseball. What I liked best about him though was he was consistent. When you came to work everyday, you knew what you were getting. Jose Lima was Jose Lima everyday of the week.
Through the good times and the bad (of which he had many), Jose stayed true to himself and I respected the hell out of him for that. It’s easy to be an entertainer and a hot dog and mingle with the fans when you’re going good. But not too many guys have the cajones to run that same act out there even when you’re scuffling and the whole world thinks you’re nuts. Jose did it though…everyday.
Whether he won or lost, whether he was in the Big Leagues or playing independent ball, he was still gonna be on the dugout roof before the game signing autographs for kids. He was still gonna be on the top step of the dugout pulling for his teammates during the game. He was still gonna have a smile on his face. He was still gonna be living life a little larger than most. The guy was consistent and that ain’t no easy thing to be in the tospy turvy, one day you’re a hero – the next a goat, world of baseball.
From a pitcher/catcher standpoint, he was a blast. One of the funnest (if not the funnest) guys I ever caught. Because catching him was like jazz. It was out there, improvised, risky, and entertaining. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. But it was never boring.
Scouting reports? What scouting reports. You could throw those out the window when Jose pitched. We were going with his strength, and his strength was momentum. The guy didn’t have the greatest stuff in the world, but he sure had an ability to stir up a ruckus…LIMA TIME BABY! When he could get that momentum wave big enough, the guy could stop anyone.
We worked well together. He knew I got his act. And he understood mine. And there was a mutual respect that came from that understanding. I knew how he liked to attack hitters and tried to accommodate, but at the same time, push his limits. (He predominantly worked away with fastballs and changes, but I loved to push him to occasionally challenge guys and brush hitters back inside). Jose was kind enough (smart enough) and a good enough teammate to trust and try my suggestions. I think we brought the best out of each other on the field.
We had many games where the game calling was like butter. I almost didn’t need to put down signs. Often, as I was putting down the numbers, he was already starting his windup with that exact pitch. We could get on the same page pretty easily and a two, or sub two hour game was not out of the ordinary. The four hitter he twirled against St. Louis in the 2004 playoffs was one such game. That was Lima Time at its best and one of the high points of my catching career.
I’m gonna miss Jose. At only 37, I think he had a lot left to offer…who knows, maybe he would’ve pulled off another one of his amazing comebacks. One thing’s for sure, baseball lost a great ambassador and the world is a little less interesting without Jose Lima walking around. Take care buddy.