If you ask the average baseball fan who John C. Odom was, they’ll give you nothing but a blank stare. And you can’t blame them, as the right handed pitcher did not have a memorable minor league career. He never played in the majors.
But eleven years ago, Odom was a household name for a summer, and a simple Google search makes it easy to understand why. John went from troubled pitching prospect to notorious punchline.
On May 20th, 2008 John C. Odom was traded for 10 maple baseball bats.
Six months later, he was dead.
John Odom’s Rocky Career
John Odom was not known for his stability, personally or professionally. A self-described, “lost youth”, those around him saw the potential in John, but also the darkness that surrounded him.
Growing up in Roswell, Georgia, John was kicked off his high school baseball team and was charged with domestic violence as a minor for attacking a man who owed him $15 with a baseball bat.
After spending two years as an aimless musician, Odom picked up his glove and walked onto the Tallahassee Community College (TCC) baseball team at the age of twenty. He had an above average three pitch repertoire, which helped him earn a 9-3 record in the 2003 season.
Despite his success at TCC, Odom was still battling demons. Mike McLeod, TCC’s baseball coach, described him as having a musician’s heart.
“He was manic. He’d sometimes come in with dark glasses and you’d know he was in a black mood. But he had so much going for him.”-Mike McLeod
The Big League Beckons
And McLeod wasn’t lying. Odom pitched so well for TCC he was noticed by the San Francisco Giants, who drafted him in the 44th round of the 2003 MLB draft. John jumped at his shot to get to the big leagues, foregoing an offer to attend Oklahoma State.
Unfortunately, Odom never reached his full potential, pitching only three seasons of low A ball for the Giants while compliling a 3.98 ERA. In 2008 the organization decided to move on from Odom due to lackluster outings and two major injuries that caused John to miss most of two seasons: a dislocated shoulder and blown elbow that required Tommy John surgery.
After the Giants released Odom he decided he was not done with baseball, even if the game was looking to move on from him.
Shortly after the release, Odom signed a contract to join the Calgary Vipers of the United League Baseball independent league.
Unfortunately, John’s rough past caught up with him and Canadian officials at the border would not allow him to cross into Canada due to his 1999 conviction for aggravated assault with the baseball bat in high school.
To make the most of their asset, Calgary’s team president Peter Young reached out to Jose Melendez, GM of the Laredo Broncos to trade Odom for a hitter, but the two could not come to an agreement. Young also wouldn’t do a cash deal with Melendez, saying cash deals make franchises look financially weak. Thus, the two teams came to an unusual deal.
Per the agreement, the Vipers traded Odom to the Broncos for ten maple baseball bats manufactured by Prairie Sticks valued at $665 total. And the internet was quick to notice. The Associated Press ran a story about the Odom trade, which went viral. Odom went from anonymous journeyman to Batman.
Odom took the trade in stride. He did interviews and downplayed the impact that being traded for ten bats had on his self-worth.
“People are like, ‘I’d kill myself’ and stuff…[but] honestly it can only get better career-wise.”-John Odom
But the world beat John down. No matter where he went the fans jeered. The Batman theme blared from sound systems as he warmed up. Reporters descended upon him, looking to get time to ask Batman where the Batcave was. They asked if saw the bats that he was traded for, which were purchased by Ripley’s Believe It or Not for $10,000 and never even used in a game.
All the interviews, heckling and blog posts wore on Odom, who couldn’t take it anymore. And on one summer afternoon in June he told the team he was done. He packed his bags and went home to Roswell, Georgia where he first fell in love with the game.
In total, Odom gave the Broncos more press conferences than starts, pitching a mere 10.1 innings and producing a subpar 6.10 ERA.
Tragic Accident or Suicide?
We will never know exactly what happened to John between June and November, 2008 after he quit baseball and went home. But it is not hard to imagine the spiral Odom experienced in those six months.
Once a lost youth, he found stability in baseball, which was now gone. Not only was baseball ripped from him, it laughed at him on the way out. From fans to umpires, fellow teammates to reporters, the entire baseball community turned him into a punchline. It would drive anyone to the brink to know you are worth ten pieces of wood.
On November 5th, 2008 Odom stepped from the brink into oblivion. He was found lifeless on the floor of his house with a mix of alcohol, heroin, crystal meth and benzylpiperazine, which is similar to ecstasy, in his system. He was just 26 years old.
The ingestion of those substances that lead to his death was ruled an overdose, but it is hard to not see Odom’s death as an intentional suicide. A final act by a frustrated man that went from pitching prospect to freak show.
Baseball has not been known for changing their rules over the years, as the sport is dripping in history and unwritten rules. But if the MLB can change the disabled list to the injured list, I see no reason why the league, as well as unaffiliated independent leagues, can’t put a clause in place eliminating trades of players for objects, which demean and humiliate their players.
And yes, baseball has been known for these types of trades in the past and John Odom is not the first to experience this type of odd swap, but we fans need to understand the psychological and emotional toll this can have on anyone.
So on May 20th, 2019 – in honor of John, take a moment to reach out to someone you know might be having a hard time. Or, if you yourself need someone to talk to, please contact a friend, family member, or use any of the free services available to you, some of which are listed below.
You are never alone, you are loved, and you are worth far more than your career. No matter what society might tell you.
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-822
National Alliance on Mental Illness: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
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