You probably remember the odd story last year of the minor league baseball player who was traded for 10 maple bats. It was one of those things that we all had a nice chuckle over, and then we forgot about it and moved on with our lives. Well, as spring training is now underway, some people have been asking whatever became of pitcher John Odom, who was sent from Calgary of the Golden Baseball League to Laredo of the independent United League. And the answer isn’t good.
Just a few months after Odom abruptly left his new team, he was dead. The 26-year-old accidentally overdosed on heroin, methamphetamine, and alcohol in November. Odom apparently had been battling personal issues, and some wonder if the publicity and ridicule over the trade pushed him into a depression from which he couldn’t recover.
The AP’s Ben Walker found that most of Odom’s former teammates from his time in the minors didn’t even know his fate until recently. One of those guys was Tim Lincecum, who stayed on Odom’s couch when they were both prospects in the Giants organization:
“It really is sad,” Lincecum said last weekend.
“He was a fun-loving guy. I mean, just high energy all the time,” he said. “I stayed on his couch just because he was on the same team I was on. I asked around a couple guys who I could stay with until I could find a place.”
Odom initially seemed to enjoy the press he was getting after the infamous trade, but those around him sensed that it was having a negative effect on him. One of those was his manager in Laredo:
“I guarantee this trade thing really bothered him. That really worried me,” said Dan Shwam, who managed Odom last year on the Laredo Broncos of the United League. “I really believe, knowing his background, that this drove him back to the bottle, that it put him on the road to drugs again.”
Shwam pointed to one particular outing that seemed to devastate Odom:
On June 5 in Amarillo, the “Batman” theme played while Odom warmed up for Laredo, and he tipped his cap to the sound booth. But he was battered for eight runs in 3 1-3 innings and mercilessly taunted by the crowd. Shwam went to the mound.
“The chants, the catcalls, they were terrible. I had to get him out of there for his own good. He was falling apart, right in front of our eyes,” Shwam said.
After one more start, Odom informed Shwam that he was leaving the team and needed to work on getting his life straightened out.
Nobody in baseball ever saw him again. Sadly, the news of his death didn’t reach anyone in the sport over the winter. Shwam called Odom in January to see if he wanted to pitch for a team in Louisiana. He left a voicemail, but Odom had already been dead for two months.
One can’t help but think of this as a smaller-scale version of Donnie Moore’s story. Moore was the California Angels pitcher who gave up a home run with 2 outs in the 9th inning to Dave Henderson in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS when the Angels were one out away from going to the World Series. The Red Sox won that game, then won two more to win the pennant. Moore never recovered from the incident and the hostility he faced in its wake, and killed himself with a gunshot to the head in his living room in 1989.
As for the bats he was traded for, they were never used by the team in Calgary. Ripley’s purchased them from the team for $10,000. And while the bats haven’t been displayed yet by the believe-it-or-not folks, they’re still planning some sort of exhibit for them:
“We’re still hoping to create an exhibit around them,” said Tim O’Brien of Ripley’s. “It would still attract a lot of interest.”
Nobody knows if Odom would still be alive if he hadn’t been traded for those bats, or if he’s simply been traded the old-fashioned way — for another player. Suddenly, one of the funniest stories of 2008 isn’t so amusing anymore.