Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Stranger than non-fiction

Someone up there has a complicated sense of humour. One day, there's a story that a writer might have made up parts of his memoir about playing minor-league baseball, then there's a story the next about the death of pitcher who was traded for bats.

John C. Odom, a right-handed pitcher whom the Calgary Vipers indy-ball team dealt away for 10 bats -- maple bats, to be fair -- died a few months ago. Only now is it getting around (a Feb. 5 Associated Press item mentioned his claim to fame, but not that he was deceased).

One can only assume how the Calgary Vipers front-office people feel tonight, especially after hearing the comments from Odom's last manager, a guy with the straight from central casting name of Dan Shwam, "I really believe, knowing his background, that this drove him back to the bottle, that it put him on the road to drugs again." It's human nature to feel sorry for John Odom, who was only 26, even though he's someone who will be remembered for getting the blunt end of how superfluou modestly talented athletes are in lower-rung leagues.

Bill Baer over at Baseball Digest Daily had some strong words about Calgary trading bats for a ballplayer (Odom couldn't get into Canada due to some troubles he'd with the law several years earlier.) It's not clear if it's something that can endorsed. John Odom obviously had personal demons, and as much as employers have to accommodate that to some extent, there are limits (full disclosure: Speaking as someone diagnosed with depression seven years ago).
"One of the more consistent lines of thought in moral theory is that an action is immoral if it causes some kind of unpleasantness for another person. I find it hard to believe that Calgary, which has claimed that the trade wasn’t made as a publicity stunt, thought that Odom would be met with nothing but positive and encouraging responses. The trade essentially said that Odom wasn't worth another professional baseball player or even a medium-sized wad of cash; he was worth ten processed 34-inch-long pieces of wood.

"Oftentimes it takes a tragedy for our error-prone ways to manifest. Dehumanizing athletes, who devote years to perfecting their craft, by trading them for next-to-nothing is a business practice that, hopefully, will now come to an end. It's a shame it took the suicide of a multi-talented kid to reveal this to us."
It's something to think about

(Meantime, about Matt McCarthy and the book Odd Man Out: There is reason to wonder why The New York Times was all over one bogus memoir, while protecting another dealing with much heavier subject matter.)

A tragic end for minor leaguer traded for bats (The Associated Press; via Baseball Digest Daily)

1 comment:

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Really sad story. Horrible that it turned out that way, but trading someone for a bag of bats was a bad idea from the start. In Calgary's defence, they couldn't really expect to get much for him as everyone knew he wouldn't be able to play for them, but a cash deal would have been better than bats (and their line about not trading players for cash because of PR reasons is a bad excuse).

On the Village Voice piece: yes, the Times certainly should take a look at the other book, especially if they promoted it. That doesn't mean that they should have ignored the problems in McCarthy's work, though. I hate the idea that we shouldn't care about errors in sportswriting as it's only about a game (not saying you're advocating that, but the Village Voice does seem to be, at least to some extent); thinking that way holds sportswriting back in my mind and prevents people from taking it seriously. Sports journalists and authors need to live up to the same standards on fact-checking and reporting as everyone else. That's why I really enjoyed and appreciated the Times' takedown of McCarthy.