Friday, November 30, 2012

#461 - John Odom

John “Blue Moon” Odom sure had one of the best nicknames of his peers. Sometimes he also had one of the best arms. But ’73 wasn’t one of those years. Elbow problems that had nagged him on and off the past few seasons sort of came home to roost during the year and things really wouldn’t get better. A brief reprieve was the game from which this photo was shot: a 3-0 shutout by Rollie Fingers and him – Odom started – against the White Sox (all pitchers from that game – Bart Johnson and Terry Forster threw for Chicago – have action photos on their cards taken from it). Blue Moon’s record entering the game was 1-9 with an ERA over 6.00 so most of his problems during the season were front-loaded. And he would continue to pitch quite well in the post-season where, despite all his regular-season issues, he nailed some nice career numbers. And any pitching woes would pale in comparison to some events down the road.

John Odom was a big three sport star growing up in Macon, Georgia, where he would eventually excel as a pitcher, going 42-2 in high school as his team won two state championships. Back then his school was the only one in the area that accepted black students. When he graduated in ’64 John’s stats earned him a $75,000 signing bonus from Kansas City and he kicked off his career that summer in Double A where he went 6-5 as a starter before getting some time up top, making his debut at age 19. While his forays at KC weren’t too successful – outside of ’66 - the next few seasons, he did successively better work in the minors as he moved from an 11-14/4.47 season in A ball in ’65 to 12-5/3.09 in Double A in ’66 and 3-2 with a 2.25 ERA in Triple A in ’67. He moved to KC for good later that last season.

Odom’s ’67 was a bit disappointing after the promise he’d shown the prior year and was the first one in which he pitched through a sore elbow. He had a big breaking curve with a pretty good fastball that put a bunch of stress on his arm. But in ’68 the A’s moved to Oakland and the change in scenery worked like a tonic for him as he won a career-high 16 games and posted one of the AL’s top ERA’s. He also made his first All-Star team. Then in ’69 a 14-3 start to the season got him in that year’s All-Star game also before his arm went south fast. He had off-season surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow and returned late the following year. After going a combined 19-20 with an escalated ERA the next two seasons he again had some elbow work done following the ’71 season. For a while that seemed like wasted work when in January of ’72 he was shot a couple times while trying to break up a burglary back in Macon. But those wounds ended up not being too serious and he returned to post excellent numbers to help take Oakland to its first Series. In the post-season he got two wins against Detroit while shutting them out for 14 innings and put up a 1.59 ERA against Cincinnati though he went 0-1. His fade in ’73 was arrested by a 3.00 ERA in that year’s post-season but then led to his move to the pen the following season where he went 1-5 as a middle inning guy. After more shutout ball in that year’s post-season, ’75 was pretty much a car wreck. After going 0-2 as a swing guy with a super-high ERA he was sent to Cleveland in May for pitchers Jim Perry and Dick Bosman. In Cleveland he threw well, going 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in a few games, including a shutout in his only start. But he insisted the Tribe pay him more to compensate for his perceived lost post-season pay and that didn’t go over too well. So he and Rob Belloir were sent to Atlanta where Blue Moon was really blue, going 1-7 with a 7.07 ERA the rest of the way. In ’76 he pitched mostly in Triple A, first for the Braves and then for the White Sox, after he was traded for catcher Pete Varney. He threw well at both spots and that summer returned to the majors where a couple weeks later he had his last big moment when he combined with Francisco Barrios to toss a no-hitter, ironically against Oakland (he and Barrios also combined to walk eleven guys in the game). After being released the following January John hooked up with Oakland again and threw some good ball in Triple A before his release, ending his time in baseball in the States. He finished with a record of 84-85 with a 3.70 ERA, 40 complete games, and 15 shutouts. A very good athlete, he also hit .195 for his career with five homers and was used often as a pinch runner. In the post-season he went 3-1 with a 1.13 ERA in ten games.

In mid-’77 Odom began pitching in the Mexican Leagues, first for the Mexico City Tigers and then, in ’78 for Tabasco. During that time he also worked at a liquor store back in Macon. He got divorced around then and relocated to the southern California area where he got work as a computer technician for Xerox in ’79. In ’85 while still employed there he was busted for selling a co-worker some cocaine and for possession (the first charge was always hearsay). It took forever for the trial to get underway and during that time he lost his job and ran out of money. At one point he became depressed and bitter and after a drinking binge barricaded himself and his wife with a shotgun inside his house. After he let his wife go he continued his face-off with the police for about six hours,. No shots were fired and after some rehab and a late-summer of ’86 trial he was released before that Christmas. He then did some drug and alcohol counseling while also starting up his own house-painting business. That got him through ’97 when his MLB pension kicked in. Since then he has been mostly retired though he does some fantasy camps and also some occasional work for the A’s. For the past few years he has been one of the team representatives at the annual first year drafts.

Just about the whole card back has been dealt with above. In addition to his high school no-no’s he took the ’66 Orioles to eight and two-third’s before giving up a hit in one of his starts. Vida Blue used to give Blue Moon a lot of crap about being an Uncle Tom-type player even asserting that Odom's nickname was coined by owner Charlie O. A bunch of people back then believed that as well but most media evidence point to a childhood friend of Odom's anointing him with that sobriquet while they were kids. Johnny Lee was pretty cut for a pitcher of his day as shown in this photo during the '72 Series when he chats up Joe Morgan (this is a great site for A's photos from that era by the way). He gets props for that.

So Oakland’s contribution to the ’76 baseball centennial smacks of the one given by Cincinnati and was Catfish Hunter’s perfect game from ’68. That instead of the three successive Series victories. But it was a pretty sweet game. On May 8, he went up against the hard-hitting Twins and shut them down, striking out eleven of them which was a big total for Catfish. Nine of the Twins outs were flyballs which was probably the only drama contributed by them in the game. That was a Catfish norm. Oakland won 4-0 on the way to their first decent season in a while. And the A’s hitting star? Catfish went three for four with three RBI’s.

These two guys just went up against each other in the ’73 AL playoffs and also played together briefly in ’75 but that shouldn’t count so here we go:

1. Odom and Larry Haney ’69 to ’75 Athletics;
2. Haney and Boog Powell ’66 to ’68 Orioles.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff....i really love this site, and am amazed at the breadth of your knowledge.