On May 29, 1945 John Odom was born. By the time he was in the fifth grade, Odom was known as “Blue Moon,” and by the time he was a teenager, he was pitching in the majors. Richard looks back on Odom’s life and career.
As Phil Hughes and Johnny Cueto are proving this season, succeeding as a young pitcher in the major leagues is no small feat. While there have been 1,067 pitcher seasons by players 21 or younger, only 159 of them—fewer than 15 percent—managed an ERA of league average or better while throwing 90 or more innings.
One of those seasons was by John Odom, widely known as Blue Moon. He got the nickname when a friend in the fifth grade decided young John’s face was evocative of the moon. Odom was first nicknamed “Moon Head,” but it soon became “Blue Moon.”
Odom has said he did not like the nickname at first—it’s not terribly flattering, let’s face it—but he warmed up to it. It is a notable nickname in being one of the few on the Charley Finley A’s teams that came from an organic location, rather than the invented histories of the nicknames Finley bestowed.
(Also of note, possibly of interest only to me after just visiting the Coors Brewery in Golden, Colo., is that there is apparently no connection between Odom and Blue Moon Ale. That Blue Moon was developed at Coors’ on-site brewery at Coors Field in Denver.)
Odom was just 19 when he reached the A’s in 1964, the youngest pitcher in the majors. His first appearance was a disaster (six earned runs in two innings) but in his second appearance he pitched a shutout against the Orioles. That was Odom’s only real success in 1964 and he finished the year with an ERA over 10.
In 1965 he threw just one major league inning, but in 1966, at just 21, he put up a 2.49 ERA in his 90 innings, all as a starter. The next year was a bad one for both the A’s franchise—it was the team’s last season in Kansas City and featured 99 losses—and Odom, who lost eight games and had an ERA over five.
The A’s and Odom rebounded the next year. Taking to its new Oakland home, the team won 82 games. Odom did even better, wining 16 games with a 2.45 ERA. Odom was named to the All-Star team, a feat he repeated in 1969 as he won 15 games in the best season of his career.
Odom was never as good again as he had been in the last two years of the ’60s, perhaps because of the massive inning totals (more than 460 together) he threw at age 23 and 24. In 1970, he went just 9-8 with an ERA over league average. In 1971 Odom dropped again, this time to 10-12 with a 4.29 ERA.
However, just as it appeared Odom might be heading down the road to finished, he rebounded in 1972. Odom went 15-6 with a 2.50 ERA (the ERA wasn’t quite as great as it appears; Oakland Coliseum was a strong pitchers park that year). The A’s also won their first World Series since the franchise was managed by Connie Mack in Philadelphia.
No small part of that World Series success was Odom’s performance in the playoffs. He allowed just two runs and posted a 0.65 ERA. He went 2-1, a tough luck loser to a shutout in Game 3 of the World Series.
Success in the postseason was something of a constant in Odom’s career. He cited problems with nerves throughout his career in the playoffs, but nevertheless finished with a career 1.07 ERA and a 3-1 record. Odom’s teams never lost a postseason series, and he pitched in all three of the A’s “threepeat” title teams in the mid-’70s.
Although his playoff success continued past 1972, Odom’s regular season performance dropped off. He never posted an ERA better than league average. In 1973 he trailed off dramatically, going 5-12 with a 4.49 ERA. The next season Odom’s won-loss record suffered even more, going 1-5, although his ERA improved on the year before.
By 1975, the bottom fell out of Odom’s career. He went 2-9 with a 7.22 ERA, bouncing among three different teams. The next year was the final of Odom’s career; he was 2-2 with a 5.79 ERA. His final victory is notable. Not only did he defeat the A’s, he pitched five innings of a no-hitter, which was completed by four innings from Francisco Barrios. It was only the third combined no-hitter in history.
After his playing days, Odom began running into trouble. In 1985 he was convicted of selling cocaine to a friend. Prior to his conviction, Odom—unsure of his future and battling alcoholism—drank to excess and after threatening his then-wife, barricaded himself inside the apartment. After a six-hour standoff, the situation was defused with no injuries.
Odom would spend six weeks in rehab for alcohol and then served a little less than two months in jail as part of his disposition on the cocaine charge. Odom now neither drinks nor smokes and has said that his problems at the time were ultimately for the best.
After his release, Odom ran a house painting service for many years. His business cards noted his major league career, but only in a small manner. Now retired from the painting business, Odom lives in Southern California. He is re-married and lives primarily on his major league pension, and enjoys his retirement playing in golf tournaments.
Odom’s career began at a very young age, reached All-Star caliber success, and helped pitch his team to three World Series victories. After his career ended, Odom briefly lost the path but was lucky enough to right himself, and now enjoys the retirement befitting the man known as Blue Moon.