Player dealt for bats meets tragic end

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"Bat Man" or "Bat Guy" or "Bat Boy" -- that's what they called him.

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Six months after being traded for 10 bats, minor leaguer John Odom was found dead from an accidental overdose  of heroin, methamphetamine, benzylpiperazine and alcohol.
Six months after being traded for 10 bats, minor leaguer John Odom was found dead from an accidental overdose of heroin, methamphetamine, benzylpiperazine and alcohol.

Ask the most hard-core baseball fan about John C. Odom and most likely you'll get a blank stare. Yet millions of people have heard of the slender right-hander.

He was the minor league player traded for 10 maple bats.

It became a big joke last May, and Odom, who played high school ball in Roswell, Ga., went from pitcher to punch line.

He seemed to handle it well, too. A former prospect in the San Francisco Giants' chain -- future Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum bunked on his couch in Class A ball -- Odom gladly agreed to interviews.

"People are like, 'I'd kill myself' and stuff," Odom said at the time, dismissing any such notion.

Three weeks after the trade, he abruptly left the team.

Six months after the trade, he was dead.

The medical examiner said Odom's death in Georgia on Nov. 5 at age 26 was an accidental overdose from heroin, methamphetamine, the stimulant benzylpiperazine and alcohol.

"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."

Odom had a bumpy four years in the Giants' system, none above Class A. He went 9-8 in 38 games, missed most of one season because of a wrecked right elbow and lost another year to a dislocated left shoulder.

The Giants released Odom in spring training last year. Calgary offered a job, but because of a 1999 conviction for aggravated assault when Odom was a minor, he couldn't get into Canada. On May 20, the team made the famous trade.

Calgary president Peter Young and Laredo general manager Jose Melendez nearly traded him 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, 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."

At first, Odom lapped up the publicity. "Batman survives," he said. His first outing went OK, too.

Then came a particularly bad night in Amarillo.

On June 5, 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 3q innings and mercilessly taunted by the crowd.

"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.

Odom pitched five good innings at San Angelo on June 10 in what turned out to be his last start. On the bus after the game, Odom said he needed to speak with Shwam the next day.

"He came in and said, 'Skip, I'm going home. I just can't take it. I've got some things to take care of. I've got to get my life straightened out,' " Shwam recalled.

And with that, Odom disappeared.

In January, Shwam called Odom's cell phone, seeing if he wanted to pitch this year for a team in Alexandria, La., but got only his voice mail. A few weeks later, Shwam learned that Odom was dead.

The actual 10 bats that Odom got traded for were never used.

The Vipers planned to auction them for charity. When Ripley's Believe it or Not! heard about the trade, it offered $10,000 to the team's children's charity.

So the bats are now stored at a warehouse in Orlando, Fla.

 
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