Pro baseball player traded for bats, dead from overdose

Last year, minor league baseball team the Calgary Vipers traded pitcher John C. Odom to the Laredo Broncos in exchange for 10 maple baseball bats worth $665. At first, Odom took the odd trade in stride, even joking about his new, embarrassing nickname of Batman. Three weeks after the trade though, he quit. And six months after that, Odom was dead of an accidental overdose of heroin, methamphetamine, the stimulant benzylpiperazine and alcohol. Before his death, the bats were bought by Ripley's Believe it or Not for $10,000 that went to the team's children's charity. Ben Walker of the Associated Press tells the whole sad story. Form the AP:
Calgary team president Peter Young and Laredo general manager Jose Melendez nearly traded (Odom) for a slugger, but it fell apart. Melendez proposed buying Odom’s contract for $1,000. Young rejected that, saying the Vipers didn’t do cash deals because they made the team look financially unstable.

Bats, though, the Vipers could use. At $665 for 10 bats–made by Prairie Sticks, double-dipped black, 34 inches long, model C243, Laredo agreed to the unusual deal.

“This was not done as a publicity stunt,” said Young, now the Vipers’ director of baseball operations. “I talked to John several times and told him this wasn’t done to embarrass him..."

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. (Broncos manager Dan) 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.
"A tragic end for minor leaguer traded for bats" (Thanks, Jason Weisberger!)

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  1. An accidental overdose of heroin, methamphetamine, the stimulant benzylpiperazine and alcohol? Good thing he wasn’t trying to do himself in. Is that like a regular night out for some people?

  2. Odom was dead of an accidental overdose of heroin, methamphetamine, the stimulant benzylpiperazine and alcohol.

    The lesson remains, don’t mix your uppers and downers.

    Also, BZP? Way to keep it classy…. up there with robotripping.
    (From the sound of his emotional turmoil, I’m guessing it was more a matter of whatever was around.)

  3. “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

    Sound like a dark night.

  4. This reminds me of when folks say something like: “Nothing personal” and then proceed to do something that could only be taken that way in spades. “Strictly business, you understand…” Pretty damn insensitive imo. They don’t expect a player to be good enough to play pro without having heart and then crush him for it. Shame on Mr. Young for rationalizing this man’s reason for living away so cheaply.

  5. So you’re saying that sports teams aren’t caring humanitarians with only the players’ welfare at heart? Well, who knew?

  6. I don’t really see the difference in him being traded for bats and him being traded for money.

  7. reminds me of some philosophy that states work where workers are means to an end is dehumanizing. or something like that.
    It may be more humane – if worker/players can quit (2wks notice) and clubs can agree on their hiring practice. There should be no trading where player is not compensated and agree to the compensation.

  8. Tenn@8: Apparently those who attended his games and shouted bat-calls did.

    Ross@7: Another reason I don’t get into team sports. I don’t have any loyalty to business franchises, no matter what their locality. Still, it seems pretty freakin’ heartless to me.

  9. #8: Trading him for bats is a chickenshit move that exacerbated his low value to the team – a humiliating move in front of other players whose mindset, as much as I like baseball, is rough, playground humor. If all they could get was six hundred bucks, well, they should have taken it and gone shopping later.

    Hope one of those maple bats doesn’t shatter into the stands while Peter Young is tucking into a hot dog.

  10. Um.. people realize in the minor leagues they do these kind of publicity stunts all the time?

  11. I don’t know why, but the first time I read the headline I thought he was was treated for the animal kind of bat.

  12. Ok, I’ll say it: Pete Young is a two face bastard!

    Peter@14: So that’s why it was unique enough of an occurrence for the bats to be bought by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not?

  13. He may have been The Batman, but both teams were Robin him of his pride. (<=somebody had to do it.)

  14. not withstanding the obvious problems with trying to hang this incident around the neck of every pro athlete, manager and fan, it’s ridiculous to try and use this to support an argument of “sports are worthless” — professional sports, that is debatable — but sports, that is, the idea of competition without attrition, has probably done more than technology, religion and art combined in bringing up humanity from being just another animal

  15. Something tells me BoingBoingers wouldn’t be making light of a person’s death by overdose if it were, say, a transgendered person, or a former member of the Weather Underground.

    Professional athletes, though, they are in diametric opposition to the BoingBoing worldview.

    1. Anonymous @ 21,

      As a former drag queen and former member of one of the above ground splinter groups of the WUO, I’ll address that. Why did you think that this post was making light of the player’s death? I read it as a tragedy about someone who was chewed up and spit out by a capitalist system that treats workers like slaves and an industry that emphasizes competitiveness in a way that destroys players’ lives. I assure you that lefties and transgenders are far more likely to have compassion for the boy who died because he was the last one to be picked for the team in gym class.

  16. How was this not a publicity stunt? They admit the bats were never used. The bats were stamped “John Odom Trade Bat”. The team planned to auction them for charity. The claim seems like a stretch to me.

  17. Maxi@21: “It’s always about the money.”

    -And that’s exactly what’s wrong with team sports, especially in this day and age where some players earn more in a year than the economies of some small countries.

  18. I always find it sad that someone finds one single thing that they build their entire identity and life around, to the extreme that if they lose that one thing, be it a significant other or a career, they can find nothing else worth living for. This guy obviously could only see himself as a baseball player and nothing else and when that fell apart, he was lost. Don’t really see anything funny about this story at all.

  19. BARTENDER: “Why so glum?”

    BASEBALL PLAYER: “Mm-my t-team just t-traded me for Buh-babe Ruth.”

    BARTENDER: “That’s nothing to be ashamed of! The Bambino is the best player of all time!”

    BASEBALL PLAYER: “N-not the baseball p-player, the candy bar!”

  20. Igpajo@23: No, it’s sad. One must be pretty single minded to make it in pro sports these days, and then, what have they got to retire to? Hopefully shlocking products for some companies that want to be associated with “a winner”. Do you think Prairie Sticks would have had Odom endorse the bats he was traded for?

  21. So the team would have been better off by outright releasing him, reinforcing the idea that he’s completely worthless, rather than trading him for something? Who knew. Honestly. Minor league teams, any sport, are all about gimmicks. Something tells me this guy was well on his way down this path, long before the trade ever occurred.

    Here’s another “gimmick” trade that goes the other way: Kris Draper, a four time Stanley Cup winner with the Detroit Red Wings, was famously acquired by the Wings for one dollar (Canadian). By rule (NHL waiver rules are only slightly less complicated than Maritime Salvage law.) players being waived by the team that held their rights couldn’t just give the player away. So Draper was placed on waivers by the Winnipeg Jets for the acquisition fee of one dollar. The Wings snatch him up, and Draper has gone on to a 15 year career with Detroit (he has since repayed Wings owner Mike Illitch that dollar.)

    Best hockey trade of all time: Jozef Stumpel was sent from the LA Kings to the Boston Bruins for “Future Considerations.” At the NHL Draft the following season, The LA Kings decided to cash in on their “considerations” by….getting Stumpel back. That’s right, Jozef Stumpel was traded for Himself.

  22. Phikus: Actually, most professional athletes attend and complete college, and usually the ones who don’t get lots of money anyway so as to render retirement unnecessary.

    To call professional athletes “single minded” is silly…especially if your definition of “single minded” involves focusing primarily on one field of employment, since we all know a broadened liberal arts education, for instance, equals anything BUT sustained economic support.

    And if “it’s all about the money” makes professional sports bad, then wouldn’t the *entire* entertainment industry, and not just sports, be bad? For that matter, “it’s all about the money” applies to pretty much anything.

    My point is that all of this making fun of a professional athlete who died tragically is pretty disgusting. I would think Boing Boingeers would be above that sort of thing. But it seems the stereotype for the type of person who likes professional sports has been deemed worthy of 7th-grade, tasteless humor. Because those who appreciate pro sports are anti-gay, conservative, goatee-sporting 4×4 drivers.

  23. @9
    “and people wonder why i hate sports so…”

    because of regular occurrences like this?

  24. I was on his team for 2 years and the assumption that this was a single minded, jock/meathead could not be further from the truth.

    Baseball was not his only identification and thats why his walking away from the sport was not as difficult as it often is for some people.

    Whats the differnce between say Josh Hamilton, who went down a similar path, and John Odom? John had the bad trip that Josh Hamilton most likely barely escaped.

    Given, John was not a 1st round draft pick with millions of dollars, but he did have exceptional talent. This is a guy who did not pick up a baseball for 2 years and threw 93 mph in his first bullpen with a junior college.

    This was a guy who had the persona of a musician to a “T” (amazing guitar player and a manic personality). He just happened to have an unbelievable arm that 3 baseball clubs paid to see perform over a 5 year period. (Say what you will about the bats, but there’s a reason his last manager called him back to play again the next year: talent).

    Enough said here, but i couldn’t allow his name to go down tarnished as merely a simple minded jock.

  25. Bingobingo@31:

    …most professional athletes attend and complete college, and usually the ones who don’t get lots of money anyway so as to render retirement unnecessary.

    Most college athletes (especially if talented enough to go pro later) get more or less a free ride through college, guaranteeing they will learn far less than anyone with a liberal arts degree, which you seem to hold in such high esteem.

    To call professional athletes “single minded” is silly…especially if your definition of “single minded” involves focusing primarily on one field of employment, since we all know a broadened liberal arts education, for instance, equals anything BUT sustained economic support.

    I guess I should have said “singularly focused” because 99% of their energy is channeled into their athletic career in order to make it pro, leaving little other skill to build a secondary career on later in life. Most are also looking to be one of the small % at the top who earn the huge salaries, when the majority by far do not earn enough to really retire on for their rest of their lives during the few years while a pro athlete.

    And if “it’s all about the money” makes professional sports bad, then wouldn’t the *entire* entertainment industry, and not just sports, be bad? For that matter, “it’s all about the money” applies to pretty much anything.

    Actually most people who are in the entertainment industry are in it because they have a passion about what they are doing. Sure, there are those who have starry eyes, but they are a small minority compared to the total amount of people working in the industry. I am not saying that professional athletes do not have passion. I am certain they are equally passionate. I am just saying that, by and large, you are making a false equivalency there because most of even the A-list professionals in the entertainment industry are not covered with endorsements all over their clothes, or are pictured on the Wheaties box or on the billboards hawking bricks / air conditioning units.

    Have professional athletes ever overtly tried to challenge the economic system that feeds them like many artists have? Take Frank Zappa’s album We’re Only In It For The Money” for example.

    My point is that all of this making fun of a professional athlete who died tragically is pretty disgusting.

    Lastly, I was not making fun of this guy. I expressed a great deal of empathy for his plight actually. I tossed a few puns into the mix after the fact, but this was aimed at the nickname “The Batman” because that’s how my dark humor works. My comments in this manner were not intended at his expense. I apologize if that’s how it came off.

    I don’t know what kind of rant you are going off on at the end of your comment there, so I will leave it at that, except to say that such generalizations do nothing to further your arguments and might be considered quite offensive to some.

  26. Blogger@35: Simple minded and single minded are two different things. I did not mean to imply what touched a nerve for you, as I commented above.

    Thanks in all sincerity for sharing some more detail about this man, whom I have the utmost respect for. I was lamenting the machine, just as Antinous expressed very well, that seems to have aided in his demise.

  27. This is definitely tragic, but the thing is, people overdose for all sorts of reasons.

    One thing that is missing here, is that the Calgary team that traded him really did not have a choice. He couldn’t play for them without entering Canada, and a criminal record (for an assault charge) prevented him from entering the country.

    Perhaps its a bad idea for him to sign with them because of this, perhaps its a bad idea for them not to find out he has a criminal record before signing him, but ultimately, as goes the Jawbreaker song, ‘bad scene, everybody’s fault’.

  28. Shameful.

    The strangest baseball trade I recall was in the 1950s when Detroit and Cleveland traded managers and groundskeepers. As Casey Stengel used to say, “You can look it up.”

    @#31 BING,

    Almost all pro football players come from colleges, which are the de facto minor league network for the NFL. Pro baseball, however, maintains a professional minor league system that allows for lengthy apprenticeships.* The educational levels of both sets of players clearly reflect this. Professional football players are much better educated than baseball players—at least on paper.

    *cf. The excellent baseball movie “Bull Durham.”

  29. Phikus:

    The end of that was sarcastic. I was talking about the stereotype of sports fans and pro sports in general–I think you probably understood that. Of course that type of generalization is offensive; ’twas clearly my point.

    Most college athletes (especially if talented enough to go pro later) get more or less a free ride through college, guaranteeing they will learn far less than anyone with a liberal arts degree…”

    Wait…I thought you didn’t like generalizations? How have you come to this rational conclusion?

    99% of their energy is channeled into their athletic career in order to make it pro, leaving little other skill to build a secondary career on later in life.

    Again, I vehemently disagree. Where are you getting your info if this isn’t just a generalization? I honestly think you’re very, very wrong.

    you are making a false equivalency there because most of even the A-list professionals in the entertainment industry are not covered with endorsements all over their clothes, or are pictured on the Wheaties box or on the billboards hawking bricks / air conditioning units.

    Advertisements are advertisements, man. Product placement in movies, advertisements on playbills in the theater, etc. etc. etc. It’s all the friggin’ same.

    Also: A-list professionals are ALL OVER my fucking TV “hawking products”. Are you being willfully ignorant here?

    And though I don’t have an *exact* figure, I would venture to guess that 99% of professional athletes are not personal sponsors of any product.

    Have professional athletes ever overtly tried to challenge the economic system that feeds them like many artists have?

    Yes. Player’s Unions have been working to benefit the employee ever since the days of players having to have day-jobs and winter jobs, having to walk home from the ballpark, etc. Thankfully, they are now earning a worthy chunk of the revenue they help to generate.

    There have been countless examples throughout the history of sports of players taking pay-cuts to remain with their team, to remain loyal, to assert their PASSION for their team and sport.

    But whatever. I’m sure you have legitimate reasons for hating sports, even if you haven’t effectively conveyed them here. For someone who claims to hate generalizations, you sure do like to use them.

  30. And the educational prowess of those NFL players can be seen with the likes of Terrell Owens, Pac Man Jones, Plaxico Burress and the many other scholars that “earn” their way through a 4 year degree (Check stats on NFL players and their graduation rates as well).

    On Paper education higher in NFL…I will agree…but obviously not a stat to build an argument off of.

    Those NFL bound college athletes often see very little of the class room and those movies that seem so incredibly far fetched (i.e. The Program) are not all that far from the truth.

  31. Bingobingo@41: Your sarcasm was not self-evident. Are you still doing it? I can’t tell.

    I never said I was not speaking generally. I was saying that your generalizations were to broad to be constructive.

    I was actually employing a compliment to say that the focus required to make it pro, in most cases, leaves little room to develop other career making skills. Again, I am decrying the system, not the individual athletes.

    Product placement deals and advertisements on playbills are decisions made by companies, not individuals. If it so acceptable for individual artists to hawk products, why is the maxim that once you start doing endorsements, you are off the artistic roll call? (Please see Bill Hicks for clarification.) You are saying the whole entertainment industry is sell-out, which clearly is too broad of a generalization in this case to be useful.

    Good for player’s unions. They certai9nly are the exception to the rule.

    Your assumption that “I hate sports” when clearly I have not said this betrays how you are coming to your misunderstanding of my comments. Please go back and re-read and perhaps we’ll discuss, but I have no more time for this right now, as it’s my birthday and quittin’ time. Bye now.

  32. most professional athletes attend and complete college, and usually the ones who don’t get lots of money anyway so as to render retirement unnecessary

    Not in baseball. Most baseball players go into the minor leagues out of high school. Some go the college route, but more just go right into the minors. The kind of money minor leaguers make is anything but “lots.”

    Have professional athletes ever overtly tried to challenge the economic system that feeds them like many artists have?

    Google the name “Curt Flood.” Then look up info on various players’ striked or threatened strikes over the years.

  33. ADAMNVILLANI:

    Please provide your source or logic for the comment regarding high school baseball players vs. college.

    Unless, you mean to encompass latin and foreign players into this discussion, I would tend not to agree with the majority of pro baseball guys being straight from HS.

    In my experience, the majority of guys i played with hailed from some form of college.

  34. #48: Sorry, I was going off of impressions, and it looks like I was probably wrong, or at least it’s fairly even these days. Wikipedia’s page on the Major League Baseball Draft says that the early years of the draft were almost all high school players, but that by now it’s about 60% college. If you figure in foreign players and players signed without being drafted, it’s probably closer to 50/50.

  35. I did a little bit of research and checked out the 2008 roster of the Dodgers on BaseballReference.com. Of the 40 players who saw action that year, 8 have colleges listed. Most of the rest were drafted or signed before they turned 20 years old, so I assumed those ones did not attend college, or did at most a year or so at a J.C.

    There were a few whose first transaction was after they turned 20, so I checked those players out on Wikipedia. Cory Wade attended college, and Terry Tiffee attended junior college. The two Japanese players, Saito and Kuroda, both attended college. Pablo Ozuna wasn’t signed until he was 22, but since he’s from the Dominican Republic and Wikipedia doesn’t say anything about college, it’s probably safe to assume he didn’t go.

    That makes 12/40 players (30%) who appeared in a game that year from the Dodgers who attended college. Obviously that’s a limited sample size, and the distribution may very well be different in the minor leagues or across all players in organized baseball as a whole.

    If you just want to look at players who attended high school in the U.S. or Canada, there were 31 (Manny and Loaiza were born in the D.R. and Mexico, respectively, but went to high school in the U.S.) such players, and 10 of them went to college. That percentage is just marginally better, at 32%.

    So that’s where my impression came from (I follow the Dodgers most) and it may very well not generalize to other teams or all professional ballplayers. But that is where I got the impression, knowing that most players had been signed when they were about 18 or so.

  36. ADAMV

    Its most definitely dependent on the organization… But if you’re going off what the Wiki says (60%) and we might as well stick with the Giants (in reference to this blogs origin), 25 off of the current 40 man roster attended some form of college. I think your 50/50 ratio will work for me.

  37. You’re right; it probably does differ a lot from team to team, not just because of random effects, but also because the different teams may have different scouting strategies.

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