Justice Is Served

May 30, 2010 10:34 PM

R.I.P.: Surely, this was not Jose Lima's time ...


Sports can offer some melancholy moments, moments soaked in sadness that have nothing to do with the final scores or with disappointing performances. Those moments are about the intersection of life's realities and the ballgames these men play.

Yes, it is just a ballgame, but ballgames themselves aren't all we remember. Often, what sportswriters remember vividly are the men who play these games -- and not for how they played in a particular game but how they responded after they performed. The standup guys are the ones whose careers sportswriters learn to appreciate most.

Few athletes were as standup as Jose Lima, the eccentric right-hander whose Major League career had an odd mix of successes and failures - more of the latter than the former -- on his resume.

Yet through the ups and the downs, Lima played with an enthusiasm that few of his peers displayed. He loved being a big leaguer, and he did nothing to indicate he didn't. He was irreverent and glib - T.O. or Charles Barkley with a Spanish accent to his English. Lima was a one-of-a-kind performer; perhaps calling him a once-in-a-generation performer might be the better way of saying it.

No man enjoyed basking in the glow of being in the big leagues any more than the colorful Lima did.

As he put it so loudly, it was "Lima Time" whenever he took the mound. Hell, it was Lima Time whenever he showed up in the clubhouse. His megawatt personality lit the place up like the Vegas Strip.

But that illuminative personality is silent now. For Jose Lima, 37, died a week ago of heart failure at his home in Pasadena, Calif. A man far to young to be spoken of in the past tense, he seemed to have plenty more living to do.

His burial Friday in relative quiet served to remind baseball fans how little was made of Lima's passing. No reason to remember him for greatness, right? He wasn't great, though he had spectacular outings on more than a few occasions. So to label Jose Lima a "journeyman" wouldn't be a slander. Nobody will confuse his career in the Majors with those of Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez, two Hispanics whose careers overlapped his.     

Yet for all their successes, neither Santana nor Martinez ever relished the public performance as much as Lima always did. He seemed unafraid to be himself, regardless of how others might view him.

Looking at his 13-year career, Lima might have be able to achieve more had he found a comfortable medium between his happy-go-lucky approach to living and the rigid structure that defines greatness.

Some men aren't marked for greatness in their chosen professions, and Lima came across as one of these men in his. Not that he settled for mediocrity - he didn't - he just didn't come across as singularly obsessed with greatness. For greatness might have changed Lima in ways that he didn't want to be changed.

What would he have done without "Lima Time"?

Who's to say, because Lima's life after his final pitch in the big leagues in 2006 was too brief to judge. His death left more questions than answers. It also left the world absent a fresh, distinctive character, a character that is rare in life and even rarer in pro sports.

How his life in total will be judged isn't for anybody on Earth to say, but what can be said about Jose Lima is that he personified living well. He squeezed the most out of it, publicly if not in his private life.

Those two lives often seemed to crisscross somewhere along the way, so it was impossible to discern the difference between the two. Did it matter, though? The only thing that meant much was that Lima wasn't bashful about letting others peek into his life - the good, the bad and the ugly of it.

How much ugly can there be in a life lived the way Jose Lima lived his?

Rest in peace, Jose!





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