Tigers stunned, saddened by Lima's death
Pitcher's generosity remembered during Detroit tenure
LOS ANGELES -- Ramon Santiago will never forget the first time he met Jose Lima as a Tiger in 2002. It wasn't the antics on the mound, the chatter in the clubhouse or the CDs from his singing career. It was his generosity.
"When I got to the big leagues, he bought me a custom-made suit, like immediately," Santiago said. "He said, 'What do you need?' I said, 'I don't have a suit.' He said, 'There's my tailor.' He bought like five custom-made, expensive suits from his tailor."
"I still have them. This is one of those."
By pure coincidence, because Sunday was a travel day for the Tigers, Santiago was wearing one of those suits Sunday morning when he learned of Lima's death. He was also wearing an emotionally shaken face as he entered the clubhouse.
The news of Lima's passing at age 37 trickled through the Tigers' clubhouse from one player to another, mainly through word of mouth. The collective reaction, from former teammates to opponents alike, was shock.
Lima was in the stands at Dodger Stadium watching two of his former teams face each other Friday night. On Sunday morning, he was gone, having suffered a massive heart attack, and many Tigers were struggling to come to grips with the sudden news.
"I was coming in the cab [to Dodger Stadium this morning] with Miggy [Cabrera] when I saw the message," Santiago said. "I said, 'Miggy, maybe it's a false alarm. Maybe it's not true.' That's what I wanted to hear."
Santiago was one of two current Tigers to have played with Lima in Detroit, Brandon Inge being the other. Many others played against him, either in the big leagues or in winter ball. Everyone who came into contact with him had the similar impression of someone who loved baseball and life with equally generous amounts.
"I have a lot of great memories," said Inge, who broke into the Majors when Lima was with the Tigers in 2001. "He was one of the good guys in the game, a lot of character, good for baseball. He was just an all-around good guy, a great teammate. He was just fun to be around. He's going to be badly missed in baseball."
Santiago broke into the Majors in 2002, Lima's last year in Detroit. He knew he was playing out the final year of his long-term contract, a deal the Tigers inherited when they re-acquired Lima from the Astros before the 2001 season, but he became a mentor for several young Latin players on that Detroit team.
"He always took care of rookies," Santiago said. "I will remember him because of the way he treated me. ... He was like a dad for me here. He was the one to take care of me. It's very sad."
Lima came up through the Tigers system in the early 1990s before making his big league debut in a Detroit uniform on April 20, 1994. He ended up pitching 95 games and recording 17 wins with the Tigers over two stints, having been traded to Houston in 1997. He went on to pitch for the Royals, Dodgers and Mets after his Tigers tenure.
Lima's final Major League game was in 2006, but he was still pitching in his native Dominican Republic in winter ball. That's where both Santiago and Tigers catcher Alex Avila faced him this past offseason.
Every time he pitched in the Dominican, they both agreed, it was a big deal.
"He just loved the game," Avila said. "That was the kind of guy he was, or at least the impression that I got. When we faced him, he'd talk to everybody. I'm out there warming up, and he ran over to me and said hi. My impression was he was doing it because he loved playing baseball. I mean, he was still enjoying it like he was a kid out there. It was great to see.
"He knew my grandfather [Ralph Avila] really well, and him and my dad [Al Avila] knew each other. So this last winter was the first time I actually met him, but he's known my family for a while, especially my grandfather. It was definitely shocking news."
Avila grounded out twice against Lima in their meeting this winter.
"Still had a great changeup," Avila said. "Knew it was coming. Still couldn't hit it."
Just as big, he still had an affection for the game. He had recently joined the Dodgers alumni program and was living in Los Angeles.
"He came over before batting practice," Inge said. "He looked great. He looked exactly the same as he did when he was playing."
He also got much the same reception.
Said Santiago: "You saw him the other night here at Dodger Stadium, and they gave an ovation for him because he pitched here. You see the people liked him wherever he was."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.