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Chris Dufresne

Brighter Days for Blue Moon

May 24, 1987|CHRIS DUFRESNE

Today marks the second anniversary of the worst day in John (Blue Moon) Odom's life. Don't bother with a card. In the 24 months that followed his arrest May 24, 1985, for allegedly selling two grams of cocaine, Odom has known despair, depression, drunkenness, disillusionment, unemployment and hunger. He has known the feeling of wanting to take his own life.

He has been dragged in and out of court enough times to know the middle name of every bailiff in Orange County.

He has been in and out of jail, too.

The problem with having a famous nickname is that people tend only to remember the headlines, which usually come in heavy doses of good and bad.

Blue Moon Odom left with your morning newspaper last September, when he was sentenced to 90 days in Theo Lacy branch jail in Orange for selling two grams of cocaine.

But at some point, without our knowing, Odom started his life over from scratch. He was left to fend for himself. His legal problems at long last behind him, Odom walked out of jail Dec. 16 to a world that was almost as frightening.

There weren't as many cameras to honor that occasion.

Most would consider the release from jail a joyous occasion. But there's something to be said for the security of familiar surroundings.

Odom left on a day the jail was serving fried chicken for dinner. He honestly wished he could have stayed another day.

For the meals wouldn't come as easily on the outside. Funny how it works, but it seemed Odom was just as unemployed the day he left jail as the day he walked in.

So now what? That's what Odom wondered. He had just paid his debt for a crime he still insists he never committed. The arrest and one court delay after another devastated him so that he became an alcoholic, a disease he fights daily. He carries the memory of a lost weekend in December 1985, in which he consumed nearly a barrel of rum and took his wife hostage in their Fountain Valley apartment.

How does one suddenly become rehabilitated and fit for society? And how, really, does one start over?

These are questions John Odom has asked.

If life were a baseball game, the answer would be easy. Blue Moon would soup up some fancy pitch and strike it out. Odom, though, can't pay the rent with World Series memories. And nowhere on his Oakland A's baseball card does it stipulate discounts at supermarkets.

It has been more than five months since Odom's release, and mostly, he and his wife, Gayle, have struggled. Many days they have gone hungry. Imagine for a second Blue Moon Odom shopping with food stamps.

Gayle lost her job last October and received her last unemployment check three weeks ago.

John and a partner have entered a house-painting business called Blue Moon Odom's Painting Service.

They have littered the area with flyers, hoping someone will notice. The flyer features a picture of the pitcher Odom in his playing days, when he helped the Oakland A's to three World Series titles in the 1970s.

Business was good at first, but it has slowed considerably of late.

"The main thing is getting the name out there," Odom said. "It's letting people see your work. I put as much into painting as I did when I played baseball. I want to be the best."

Odom said that some of his customers find it curious to have Odom working for them.

"Some of them know the name," he said. "They'll say 'Hey, didn't you used to play ball?' Then they'll hang around and talk to me. I think people like having a celebrity doing work for them."

Odom has kept busy by devoting much of his time to charity work. He has aligned himself with an anti-drug program called "Pros for Kids."

Odom's name, in recent years, has been linked with everything that's wrong with sports.

"The image needs to be changed," he said. "It's definitely got to change. Hopefully, kids won't fall into the same traps I did."

Odom and Gayle were talking the other day about their luck, which has mostly been bad. They were talking about the break they needed and hadn't yet received.

Then the phone rang. Gayle answered. She could hardly contain her excitement. Waiting on the other end of the line was a job as a collections coordinator for a computer company in Tustin. It was the position Gayle wanted. It pays more than $1,600 a month.

Blue Moon Odom's face lit up like a scoreboard. He kissed his wife in the living room.

"There's been so much tension on me," he said later. "She hasn't been working. Maybe today, luck will start to come my way."

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