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BLUE MOON ODOM’S RETURN NOT SO GLORIOUS : He’s Struggling to Clear a Name He Never Wanted

Times Staff Writer

He wants only to be known in life as John Odom. Nothing more or less. Odom’s idea of whooping it up is watching children play on Sunday, or tossing a fishing line out on a lake.

There was only a problem because his right arm couldn’t stand being ordinary. His arm wanted to paint the town red.

Odom never asked to be famous. He just was. He could heave a rock farther and harder than nearly any other kid in Macon, Ga. And on the day a baseball replaced a stone, there was no turning back.

A grade school buddy, Joe Morris, one day likened Odom’s round face to the moon, and from that came the nickname Blue Moon.

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It was a name that baseball begged for. Blue Moooooooon Odom. It rolls melodiously off the tongue, sounding famous all by itself. Everyone hoped he would be good enough to live up to it.

Blue Moon did his best. Fresh out of high school, he signed for $75,000 with the Kansas City Athletics in 1964. He bought his mother a house in Macon, then set out for stardom.

Before he was through with the Oakland A’s, he had pitched three times in the World Series and made two All-Star teams.

But when it all ended after 12 years in 1976, he was glad to become John again.

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He married a nice girl and happily disappeared into Orange County suburbia. He took a modest job in Irvine with the Xerox Corp. as a computer maintenance operator and worked for six years without missing a day.

It was nice being plain John. Some at the plant never knew he had played big league baseball. Often, when asked if he was the Blue Moon, Odom denied it.

Life was good until May 24, 1985, when Odom was arrested on his way home from work in Irvine for allegedly selling a gram of cocaine to a fellow employee.

Odom will never forget it because it was the day he became Blue Moon again.

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No cocaine was found in Odom’s possession, but police said that Willie Earl Harris, a co-worker at Xerox, had told them that Odom sold him the drug. Harris also implicated Odom in another sale May 17.

Odom was back in the news, the last place in the world he wanted to be.

He said that the whole thing was a frame and that he could prove it in court. So far, he hasn’t had the chance.

It has been more than a year since Odom’s arrest, and his case still hasn’t come to trial. It has been postponed several times. His next hearing is scheduled for July 21.

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In the meantime, Odom fights an ongoing battle to keep his sanity.

He was put on indefinite suspension by Xerox after his arrest and has yet to find work.

He had been unemployed for six months last December when he finally cracked. He said he was despondent over his failure to find a job. Bills were piling up. He began talking to the picture of his deceased mother in his living room.

He also drank.

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He had put away half a gallon of rum when he returned home to his Fountain Valley apartment on the evening of Dec. 10. Odom said that he was out of his mind.

He and his wife, Gayle, had a terrible fight. Odom grabbed a shotgun and hit Gayle in the neck with the butt end. Neighbors called police. A SWAT team took position. Gayle left the apartment unharmed, but it was six hours before Odom emerged, forced from his apartment by four canisters of tear gas.

He spent six days in jail and underwent psychiatric analysis. Gayle never pressed charges, and doctors concluded that Odom’s breakdown was triggered by a single episode of severe depression. No medication was prescribed. Counseling was ordered as a sentence on misdemeanor charges for assault with a weapon.

Today, Odom tries to keep busy. He and Gayle appear closer than ever. But each court delay sends him back into depression. A job would help Odom’s stability. He has grown insecure and fearful. He trusts few people.

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“Every time I go to court, they add pressure on me,” Odom said. “I can’t get a job. I want to support my wife like I used to, and people don’t want to take a chance on me because of all this court stuff.

“I’m going to counseling and I’m going to keep going because they’re going to make me go. ‘Cause I can’t take it much longer.”

Odom sometimes wishes he had never been Blue Moon. He wonders if he would be in this mess had he not been a public figure. One gram of cocaine. That’s about 1/28th of an ounce. Even if he were guilty of selling it, which he says he’s not, Odom would likely get off lightly as a first-time offender.

“It’s certainly not a state prison sentence,” said Jim Enright, Orange County’s chief deputy district attorney. “Chances are he’d get probation with some form of jail time, everything being equal.”

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Odom, though, claims there are political ramifications affecting his case. He said the Orange County district attorney’s office is afraid to drop it because it has attracted considerable media attention.

He wonders if his case wasn’t conveniently postponed until after last week’s election, in which District Atty. Cecil Hicks was running.

Gregg Prickett, the prosecuting attorney in the case, refused comment and said the office would have no comment on Odom’s case before the trial.

In any event, Odom certainly has become entangled in a bizarre web of judicial red tape.

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Odom’s attorney and the district attorney’s office agree that the case has dragged on far too long. As to where the blame should be assigned, well, that’s where it gets complicated.

But consider that it took three months for Odom’s case to wind through municipal court.

He first appeared on June 25, 1985, a month after his arrest. He reappeared Aug. 1, and his case was actually dismissed when the prosecution’s prime witness, Harris, failed to appear.

The district attorney’s office eventually located Harris, however, and re-filed the case later in August. Odom appeared again for arraignment Aug. 30, and the case was continued four days to Sept. 4, at which time Odom’s lawyer, Stephan A. DeSales, was bound to another commitment.

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The case was delayed to Sept. 25, and a pretrial hearing in superior court was set for Oct. 17.

“We actually got through municipal court within 45 days after the case was refiled,” DeSales said.

Odom was arraigned in Orange County Superior Court Oct. 28, and a trial date was set for Jan. 10.

But his drug case took a back seat when Odom was arrested Dec. 10 in Fountain Valley and initially charged with felony assault with a weapon.

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More delays.

When Odom’s felony charge was resolved, DeSales filed a motion to dismiss Odom’s drug case. That motion was denied Feb. 28.

The case was continued to March 17, then postponed to May 12 as the court awaited a probation report from Odom’s psychiatrist, who eventually deemed Odom competent to stand trial on his drug charge.

Then DeSales agreed to delay the trial again until July 21, reasoning that the political climate might be more calm after the election.

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Odom, understandably, has grown impatient.

“They don’t have crap on me,” Odom said. “There are people being re-elected here and there. There are people who are afraid to drop all this on me. They’ve got nothing, so they don’t know how to get out of it. So there are going to be postponements.”

Police contend that Odom is part of a larger cocaine ring.

On May 15, 1985, the Irvine police department received an anonymous call to the We Tip hotline, claiming that Odom was selling cocaine to workers at Xerox.

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According to the police report, Odom was put under surveillance and, on May 24, 1985, was viewed making a transaction with Harris in the Xerox parking lot.

Odom was arrested a few blocks from the plant. Harris, who had an outstanding warrant at the time of his arrest, had two half-ounce packages of cocaine. Harris told police that he purchased them from Odom.

Police searched Odom’s car and found a piece of glass and a plastic tube with a “white powder residue” in the visor.

Odom had $382. He said he had earned it selling Avon products, that he had been selling them since 1979.

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Harris, a convicted auto thief, agreed to testify against Odom in court, the report said.

Ironically, it was Gayle Odom, who said that Harris and her husband had once been friends, who posted bail for Harris.

Odom does not deny that he has used cocaine. He does not deny that police found a straw and glass--the common instruments used in sniffing cocaine--in his car.

But he does deny that he is a drug dealer.

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His attorney, DeSales, is convinced that Odom is not a dealer and has proclaimed his faith so far by handling Odom’s defense without charge.

“If he was a big-time drug dealer, I’d be getting paid some big money,” DeSales said. “The guy is not a drug dealer. Besides, I personally like him, and that is one of the reasons I’m helping him.”

While his day in court eludes him, Odom tries to make ends meet. The unemployment checks stopped in late March.

During a recent visit to Odom’s apartment, a reporter wondered how Odom’s job hunt was progressing.

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Gayle Odom left the living room and returned with a stack of rejection letters. The Odoms have sent out more than 200 resumes to nearly every company imaginable.

At Xerox, Odom worked in computer maintenance, but he said he is now willing to do anything.

“I will train for free in order to get a job in the future,” Odom said. “I’m going to do this until something comes up. I’ll work for free. It’s the only thing I can do. I can’t just sit here.”

Odom, though, is wondering how long he can hold on.

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“We’re hurting real bad,” he said of their financial situation.

Odom’s aunt died recently in Macon, but he said he could not afford to return home for the funeral. He sent flowers.

Gayle has taken a job at a drapery company in Santa Ana to help ease the burden.

The Odoms survived most of the year on money that Gayle received as a settlement in a 1984 car accident. “It sounds strange, but it came at a good time,” she said.

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Odom is convinced that he will not work until his legal problems are solved.

“Every time I go to court, I come out a different person,” he said. “It’s messing with my mind. That’s why I need more counseling, because every time I go to court looking to be freed of all these things, they dismiss me to another day. If I was a weak-minded person, I’d be stone crazy.”

Odom, who turned 41 on May 29, will not receive his major league pension until he is 45. Then, he says, he will get $40,000 a year until he is 65 and $60,000 a year after that.

But Odom says he wants to work, not sit.

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When his unemployment checks ran out in March, he began feeling the way he did last December. It was a way he never wanted to feel again.

Odom called his longtime friend and insurance man, Jimmy Walker, in Phoenix.

Walker told Odom to get out of the house.

“He needs to be busy,” Walker said. “It’s time that’s causing him problems.”

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Walker suggested that Odom help those even less fortunate, so Odom put on his Oakland A’s uniform again and visited patients at the Childrens Hospital of Orange County in Orange. From their meager income, John and Gayle bought gifts for the children.

Odom liked that. He has since made other hospital visits and helped area Little Leaguers.

“It’s like John’s in a game, he’s down a few runs and the bases are loaded,” Walker said. “He just needs to get a few pitches over.”

There was a time when he could.

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Odom was one of those genuine bonus babies you used to read about. He pitched eight no-hitters for Macon’s Ballard Hudson High School, but his greatest day as a teen-ager was the day he was able to buy his mother a house with his bonus money.

He vowed she would never work again, and she didn’t.

Odom climbed to the majors quickly. He had his best year early in his career, in 1968. He had a 16-10 record and a 2.45 earned-run average. He had 15-6 marks in 1969 and 1972. He pitched three times in the World Series with the great Oakland teams of the 1970s.

But nothing lasts forever. He suffered arm and shoulder problems. The A’s dealt him to Cleveland in May of 1975. Three weeks later he was sent to the Atlanta Braves. In 1976, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. He spent time in the minor leagues. He spent more time on the disabled list.

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He last tasted glory on July 28, 1976, when he and Francisco Barrios combined for a no-hitter for the White Sox against his former team, the A’s.

It was the strangest of games. The final score was 2-1. Odom walked nine batters in five innings and was removed. Barrios came in and walked two more in four innings. Between them, they allowed 11 walks, but no hits.

Odom was released in January 1977. He played in Mexico for two years before finally retiring in 1978.

Odom had enjoyed the game, but he wanted to leave it on the field.

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“I didn’t want to talk about what I used to be,” he said. “I like to be myself sometimes.”

He had met Gayle in 1971, when she was living in New York and he was playing for the A’s.

They dated for three years but hadn’t seen each other in four years when they met again in October 1978.

They were reunited, by coincidence, at an Angel game. Odom’s friends practically dragged him to a game he didn’t want to see. Gayle had just moved to California from New York. It was her first visit to Anaheim Stadium.

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Gayle saw Odom walking out the players’ gate; they rekindled their romance and were married in 1983.

Odom treasured the quiet life. He was making $24,000 a year at Xerox, and it seemed to suit him fine.

But everything changed with his arrest. And what happened last December, Odom does not wish to remember.

He recalls only the state of his depression and how much he thought of his mother, who had died five years earlier.

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“He needed to go see her grave,” Gayle said. “He was in such a state of depression that he just needed to go home to Macon, go to the cemetery and sit by the grave. Thank God we got that.”

Unfortunately, the trip came two weeks too late. Gayle said, however, that the incident at their home wasn’t as dramatic as reported.

“He never held me hostage,” she said.

Gayle said that John had gone from a violent to a passive state and was asleep in his room when police tossed canisters of tear gas through his bedroom window.

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John doesn’t remember.

“I don’t want to,” he said. “Just because of what I heard. It wasn’t me. I was messed up. I know that. I drank all that day. I started drinking, and that was it. . . . I couldn’t see why all this stuff was happening. I didn’t know what to do. I was out of a job cause someone closed the plant on me. I had been suspended indefinitely and lost a month’s pay. I had no way of getting back with Xerox. I don’t even know if Xerox could still hire me.”

The plant at which Odom had worked in Irvine closed in June 1985, and some of the workers were relocated. Odom, perfect work record or not, was not.

Odom said he still isn’t sure whether he’s an employee of Xerox. He said he has never officially been fired or told the status of his suspension.

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He said he had to fight through his union to collect his severance pay.

Odom’s personnel supervisor at the Irvine plant, Diane Jones, who was relocated to a Xerox plant in New York, would not discuss Odom’s situation.

Barry Sulpor, a spokesman for Xerox, later confirmed that Odom was “terminated in June of 1985.”

Odom’s best friend in the world right now is Ernie Haneline, a 77-year-old retired businessman. They seem good for each other. Odom calls Haneline Uncle Ernie.

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They met about a year ago while fishing at Central Lake in Huntington Beach. It was about the time Odom’s problems were beginning.

One of the great things about Uncle Ernie, Odom said, is that he doesn’t know anything about baseball. At least not modern baseball.

“When Babe Ruth died, baseball went out of my life,” Haneline said.

Haneline had never heard of Blue Moon Odom.

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Odom and Haneline fished together when they could. They talked about life. They talked about problems.

One day, Haneline got around to asking Odom what he did for a living. Odom replied that he had pitched in the major leagues.

“The name didn’t mean anything to me,” Haneline said. “I thought he was a better fisherman.”

Odom had found the perfect companion.

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He invited Haneline over for Thanksgiving. Haneline saw the mementoes of a baseball career that decorate the walls in Odom’s apartment.

Haneline told Odom that it appeared this Blue Moon had been pretty famous.

Odom smiled.

Haneline and Odom now play golf about three times a week. Haneline pays Odom’s greens fees.

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“I grew attached to him,” Haneline said. “He’s a lot of fun. If all the people in the world were like him, it’d be a fine world. I’m getting a lot of happiness from him.”

And Odom would say the same. Around Haneline, his fears disappear. No longer is he suspicious. For a few moments, Odom is plain ol’ John again.

“I was John Odom until I was 19,” Odom said as he sat on the couch in his living room. “Then, I became Blue Moon Odom, the public figure. Whatever I did was known.

“It’s like the stuff going on now. It’s not like I’m just a person. When my mom died, the papers said that the mother of John (Blue Moon) Odom had died. They didn’t say that Mrs. Odom had passed.

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“See what I mean? Why can’t I be me? I hide so much, but people who know me try to bring me out for what I used to be. When I walk down these stairs, I’m Blue Moon Odom. But you’re going to be you.”


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