Game Time: Jose Lima, 1972-2010
"I was born for this, I love baseball, and remember guys, it's still Lima Time, and it's always Lima Time. You gotta believe that." -- Jose Lima, 2009 as a member of the Long Beach Armada in the independent Golden Baseball League
Much like the man behind the movement, "Lima Time" is simultaneously simple and complex. I can't define it in one or two sentences, yet I promise by the time you're done reading this, you'll know exactly what it is.
I mean, how exactly do you explain a pitcher who went from a 20-game winner and All-Star one year to the worst ERA in the majors the next? How do you process the complete disregard for the unwritten rules about "showing the other guys up" with the hundreds of players who gushed about what a great teammate Jose Lima was? Above all else, in a sports world largely bereft of guys that openly recognize who pays for the tickets that pay their salaries, why did we lose a 37-year old guy on Sunday who, in the middle of a 1-8 start in 2000, went on television and thanked the fans for their support and told them "I know you pay my bills"?
A massive heart attack robbed the world of Jose Lima early Sunday morning. The magic of YouTube and the memories of fans across every city in which he ever played, thankfully, left "Lima Time" behind.
If I can't define what "Lima Time" is in simple terms, I can certainly tell you where it started. It started in Houston in 1998 on the morning show of then-610, now-1560 duo John Granato and Lance Zierlein. One morning early in the 1998 season, Jose Lima decided to show up at the studio and do some radio with John and Lance. The definition of "Astro fan favorite" would forever be changed.
When most athletes come into studio to do radio, they stay for an hour or so, answer questions, maybe take a few calls. (Truth be told, only some of them seem to truly enjoy doing it.) Jose Lima came on with John and Lance that morning and never left. He stayed all four hours of the show, and could have gone another four if they wanted him to.
We all wanted him to. "Lima Time" was born.
|Lima Time is dead; long live Lima Time|
He sat down in front of the microphone on that show, and he talked. And talked. And talked some more. He talked about the game the night before. He told stories about a heavy set woman he had a relationship with when he was in rookie ball in West Virginia. "Two fifty, plus tax" is how he described her. He talked about how much he hated the Yankees, complete with the "Y" pronounced like a "J" in that thick, distinguishable Dominican accent. He called Ricky Martin a "sweet boy" twelve years before we got the inevitable confirmation from Ricky himself.
And he talked about "Lima Time." And he told us to "believe it." And we did.
We believed it because he signed autographs, he talked to fans, he threw us souvenirs, he cheered for his teammates, he wore a rally cap, he entertained. "This is how it's supposed to be; this is what athletes are supposed to give back to us. Jose Lima gets it." We loved him because he loved us, and because he loved being Jose Lima, so much so that he went to play a beer league softball game with Lance one time (during the Astros regular season, no less) and wore his Astro spring training game jersey, complete with "LIMA 42" on the back.
Eventually, "Lima Time" went national. After months of convincing from Lance, Travis Rodgers, Jim Rome's producer at the time, finally agreed to book Jose Lima on the nationally syndicated Jim Rome Show. Baseball fans around the country got an appetizer-sized taste of the all-you-can-eat buffet of greatness that Lima had been serving up on John and Lance's show for the whole season.
Just like he had done with John and Lance, Lima owned Jim Rome's Jungle. He talked about how much he loved playing in Houston, about what a great team the Astros had in 1998, and he promised Rome that when (not if..when) he won his 20th game in 1999, he would send the host the game ball. Autographed. And he told Rome about "Lima Time" and told him to "believe it," and Rome did.
So now the corner of the world that was Jim Rome's Jungle all loved Jose Lima, too; "clones" everywhere believed in "Lima Time." But in Houston, we knew they were only getting the "Lima Time" trailer, we were getting the entire "Lima Time" feature film. It was like seeing a hometown band you grew up watching in dive bars suddenly blow up in Nashville or Los Angeles and make it big; the world showers them in adulation for all of their big hits, but deep down you know that you and your hometown buddies are the only ones that know the words to every B-side, underground song.
The full "Lima Time" box set was invented in Houston; the world got its ten or so greatest hits on Rome.
Jose Lima finished his Major League Baseball career with a fairly pedestrian record of 89-102 and a 5.26 earned run average. He had more seasons with ERA's over 6.00 (five) than he did seasons with ERA's under 5.00 (four). He made one All-Star team, his 21-win season in 1999.
You can say that "statistics don't measure Jose Lima's impact on the game of baseball" as a merely subjective (albeit correct) statement, or you can cite some form of statistical evidence to support that statement. Baseball-reference.com has a feature for each player in which they show the top ten pitchers or hitters to whom a player is most historically and statistically similar.
Under "Similar Pitchers" for Jose Lima, baseball-reference.com has determined that over the hundred-plus year history of the game, Lima is most statistically similar to, conveniently enough, current Astro Brian Moehler.
With all due respect to Moehler, a pro's pro and a serviceable arm in his time here in Houston, there is no such thing as "Moehler Time." If Brian Moehler were to pass away next week, we would all be saddened, but we wouldn't be scrambling to put together a memorial radio show that Monday for people to share their best Brian Moehler stories. People wouldn't be going to Google Image to find the perfect zany shot of Brian Moehler to use for their Twitter avatar because every other Astro fan decided to pay that same tribute. We wouldn't all be emailing each other begging for someone to find the lost video of the Brian Moehler Casa Ole
Stats tell us Jose Lima and Brian Moehler are virtual equals; Sunday afternoon told us "Lima Time" has no equal.
In some sense, Jose Lima's sudden, tragic death on Sunday was the ultimate test of "Lima Time." For many Astro fans, the news was as confusing as it was devastating. And yet what Sunday almost immediately turned into -- on Twitter, amongst e-mails, out at sports bars, in the Minute Maid press box -- was a deluge of old Jose Lima stories, each seemingly funnier than the last one.
Several of the stories were tweeted by current Astros Senior Director of Social Media Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter on Twitter, if you need her), who was the Assistant Director of Media Relations when Lima was with the team. She talked about 2000, the team's first season in then-Enron Field. The Crawford Boxes and their close proximity to home plate would eventually be Lima's undoing; he knew it as soon as he saw the park for the first time.
Well, as expected, the start of 2000 did not go well for Lima (22 home runs allowed in the first two months of the season), and in an effort to break a personal losing streak, Lima bleached his hair in San Francisco. Didn't work. He came home and lost his next game as well. His response to that loss? He decided to put on a concert in the center field restaurant, which at the time was Ruggles.
"Lima Time" indeed.
My favorite story Alyson told was about a trip to Chicago, a typical unforgiving cold and rainy morning at Wrigley Field. She and Lima were huddled in the dugout trying to stay warm during batting practice, a near impossibility. Merely seeking body heat, Lima scooted alongside Alyson and put his arms around her. She responded by pointing out that she was pretty certain that intertwined contact between player and media relations personnel was probably prohibited by the ball club. Lima's response -- "I don't care. I'm [bleep]ing freezing."