LOS ANGELES — Jose Lima lived over the top on and off the baseball field. The free-spirited pitcher could deliver a song as well as a fastball, leaving a trail of fun and laughter known as “Lima Time” wherever he went.
The All-Star right-hander who spent 13 years in the major leagues died Sunday, according to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was 37.
Lima, who pitched the Dodgers to their first playoff win in 16 years in 2004, died of an apparent heart attack in Los Angeles, according to the Aguilas Cibaenas, a winter ball team that Lima had played for in the Dominican Republic.
“Lima was an exceptional man. This is a great loss for Dominican baseball and the country,” team president Winston Llenas said.
Lima posted his best season with the Houston Astros in 1999 when he was selected to the All-Star game. He went 21-10 with a 3.58 ERA in 35 starts for the NL Central champions.
“It saddened me greatly to hear of Jose’s passing,” Astros owner Drayton McLane said. “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.”
Lima spent the majority of his career in Houston, compiling a 46-42 record from 1997-2001.
“He was an animated guy and a fierce competitor and he got people excited,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “It’s just so sad when you lose one of your peers.”
Lima revived his career several times, bouncing between the independent league and the minors. The Dominican pitcher was 89-102 with a 5.26 ERA in 348 games in the majors, with his last appearance a four-game stint with the New York Mets in 2006.
“When you faced Jose Lima, you didn’t know what to expect from him,” said Mariano Duncan, Dodgers first base coach and former major league infielder. “He had a good fastball, a good changeup and good breaking ball. He was a good baseball player and a good friend. Nobody enjoyed the game more than him, and we’re going to miss him.”
Popular with fans and animated on the mound, his merengue music became a familiar fixture in the Astros clubhouse.
“He was a man full of life, without apparent physical problems and with many plans and projects on the agenda,” his wife, Dorca Astacio, told ESPNdeportes.com.
“This is a shock for us because Lima was a young man who seemed healthy and nobody imagined this,” Aguilas Cibaenas manager Tomas Jimenez said.
On Friday night, Lima attended a game at Dodger Stadium, where he was introduced between innings and received an ovation from the crowd.
“Horrible news. It’s so sad,” Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. “His energy was infectious. It’s a big loss. He was a showman and a hot dog, but he won games. He willed himself to do it. He always had a smile on his face.”
Lima went 13-5 with a 4.07 ERA in 2004 after making the Dodgers as a non-roster invitee to spring training.
In the National League division series, Lima pitched a five-hit shutout against the St. Louis Cardinals in front of a sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium. It was the Dodgers’ first postseason win since Game 5 of the 1988 World Series.
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt called Lima’s electric personality “unforgettable.”
“He had the ability to light up a room and that’s exactly what he did every time I saw him,” the owner said in a statement.
McCourt said Lima further endeared himself to fans when he sang the national anthem and “God Bless America” at a home game in 2004. He performed with his band at the team’s annual Viva Los Dodgers celebration.
Lima often sang and danced at Astros functions around Houston.
“He had a great flair and such enthusiasm for life,” said Tal Smith, president of baseball operations for the Astros. “‘Lima Time’ was a special time. ‘Lima Time’ was whenever he was pitching, or at any event or club function or civic function that he was at. He’d get up and sing and dance, and he was very, very good. He was a real entertainer.”
Lima’s on-field enthusiasm was sometimes misinterpreted as disrespect or arrogance by older players taught not to show their emotion.
“Those kind of guys got their feathers ruffled at first,” former Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker said. “But once you got to know Jose, you knew he didn’t have a harmful bone in his body. He was happy-go-lucky, he always had a smile on his face, and he seemed to wake up every day raring to go and looking to do something good in the world.”
Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila played against Lima last winter in the Dominican league. He recalled Lima would run over to him during warmups to say hello and wish him luck.
“He was still enjoying it like if he was a kid out there,” Avila said. “Anytime he pitched anywhere over there, it was like a party for him. Every time he ran onto the field, there were cheers. People loved him.”
The Dodgers said Lima had joined their player alumni group within the past month and was preparing to open a youth baseball academy this summer in Los Angeles.
Former Dodgers teammate Guillermo Mota said Lima loved to spend time with fans.
“He would sign autographs all the time and ask the kids, ‘What time is it?’ They would answer ‘Lima Time!’ I can see it right now,” said Mota, now a San Francisco Giants reliever.
Lima also pitched for Detroit and Kansas City.
In 2005, when the Royals ended a 19-game losing streak, Lima broke out bottles of Dom Perignon champagne to celebrate and offered $1,000 to whoever most helped the team win the next day.
Funeral arrangements were pending.
Associated Press Writers Christopher Weber and Dionisio Soldevila in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and AP Sports Writers Chris Duncan in Houston and Janie McCauley in Oakland, Calif., contributed to this report.