Jose Lima pitched two of the ten worst seasons ever recorded by a major league starter.
Lima was a Dominican right-hander who pitched 13 big league seasons. He played for the Tigers, Astros, Royals, Dodgers and Mets between 1994 and 2006, posting a lifetime record of 89-102. The New York Times described Lima as “the national anthem-crooning, towel-waving merengue singer who moonlights as a right-handed pitcher.”
A flamboyant free spirit, Lima was extreme and exasperating. He pitched and lived with great flair and enthusiasm. Known for his demonstrative celebrations after his victories in the face of opponents, Lima was a born showman who loved being the center of attention. “Spend any time around Jose Lima,” said Kansas City Royals writer Bob Dutton, “and it quickly becomes apparent he is never at a loss for words. Anytime, anywhere, any subject.”
From 1998 to 2000, Lima gave up an eye-popping 112 round-trippers.
Jose Lima was a character. He was a recording artist who wrote songs and performed with his own bands. During his lone season with Los Angeles in 2004, Lima sang the national anthem before a game at Dodger Stadium. Zany and irrepressible, he fathered six children by six women. The light-hearted Latino happily mingled with fans, especially youngsters.
Lima’s remarkably animated displays of emotion made him a fan favorite but drew the ire of opposing teams. The zany hurler dubbed his pitching appearances as Lima Time. In June 1999, Sports Illustrated wrote, “He takes the field with stirrups that extend to the top of his calves and begins a game-long dance that evolves pitch by pitch. He flaps his elbows, squeezes his fist, points, shrugs, grimaces, nods, jumps, kicks and writhes. He swivels his torso after one pitch and gyrates his hips after the next. After a big strikeout, he busts a move that would make John Travolta proud, mock-shooting his victim with his forefinger and thumb.”
Born September 30, 1972, in the Dominican Republic city of Santiago, Jose Desiderio Rodriguez Lima signed with the Detroit Tigers at 16. He made his first big league start at 21, against the Kansas City Royals. The sixth batter he faced, Gary Gaetti, mashed a long home run to left field. The seventh batter he faced, Dave Henderson, hit one even longer.
After going 13-28 for the lowly Detroit Tigers from 2001-02, Lima said, “If I can’t pitch on this team – the worst or second-worst team in baseball – where am I going to pitch? If I can’t start on this ballclub, I must be the worst pitcher on Earth.”
In his first four seasons, Lima went 9-22 with a 5.92 ERA. He was dealt to the Astros in an eight-player deal in December 1996 and went 16-8 in his second season in Houston. Lima’s best season came in 1999 when he won 21 games for the Astros and pitched in his only All-Star Game. He led the league in starts, posted a 3.58 ERA and finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting.
Lima struggled to regain his form after 1999. He had one of the worst seasons in history in 2000, when he went 7-16 [in 33 starts] with a 6.65 ERA. Lima allowed 145 runs — the most in the major leagues in three decades — and gave up 48 homers, the most-ever by a National League pitcher. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was a paltry 1.82 and he allowed 1.62 walks and hits per inning pitched.
While the 2000 season was rough for Lima, 2005 was worse. In his last full season in the major leagues, he won only five of 32 starts. Featuring a fastball that was nearly indistinguishable from his change-up, the Dominican right-hander posted a 6.99 ERA and gave up a lead-leading 131 runs. Lima struck out only 80 while issuing 61 walks and his WHIP rose to 1.66. In 2005, American League batters hit .314 off Lima while slugging .544. With two outs and runners in scoring position, the league batted .446 against him.
In the 2004 NLDS, Lima pitched a five-hit shutout against St. Louis in front of a sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium. It was his finest hour – and the first Dodgers postseason win since Game 5 of the 1988 World Series.
In February 2006, the New York Mets signed Lima to a minor league deal. He arrived at spring training in a silver three-piece suit, a black fedora and large diamond earrings. Lima announced to reporters that he owned more than 2,000 suits, boasting, “I’ve never worn the same one twice. I give the old ones to my brothers. They wear the same size that I do.”
Lima went 0-4 in four games pitched for the Mets in 2006. He finished the season in Triple-A Norfolk, then never returned to the majors. He played in the Mexican League in 2007, spent the following season pitching in Korea, then spent his final pro summer in the Golden Baseball League in 2009. Lima settled in southern California, where he frequently attended Dodger games. On the evening of Saturday, May 22, 2010, Lima went out dancing with his girlfriend, Dorca. Early the following morning, he suffered a massive heart attack and died, stunning the baseball world. Jose Lima was 37.