Last month, Broward County’s wastewater services instituted password protection, meaning former MLB outfielder Oddibe McDowell’s water bill is no longer a matter of public record. To commemorate the 13-month joyride of transparency, Deadspin has commissioned an oral history. This is the story of Oddibe McDowell’s water bill, as told by those who lived it.
Tommy Craggs (editor-in-chief, Deadspin): It started with a tip. That’s how these things always start, isn’t it? A nudge in the ribs, a “psst” from someone in the know, Hal Holbrook talking into his cigarette in a parking garage. That’s what great journalism is.
Tom Scocca (managing editor, Deadspin): This is one of the first things I remember when I joined Deadspin: the water bill. Craggs had this big pile of confidential financial documents from pro sports he was going through, scribbling notes about the accounting practices all over the pages. And then, boom! On top of that, we were getting Oddibe McDowell’s water bill. We got it every billing cycle. This was when I realized just how deeply A.J. and Tommy were wired in, and what kind of power Deadspin had at its disposal.
Craggs: You know that feeling a ballplayer gets when the fat part of his bat meets the ball flush on the garlands of Bud Selig’s signature—that little hum deep in his bones, as if he were just one giant sympathetic chord? That’s what it felt like when I got that email from a friend. Subject line: “Oddibe McDowell’s Water Bill.”
Barry Petchesky (writer, Deadspin): Craggs forwarded me the tip and said, “do this.” I said I’m not doing this. This is too stupid. “Play it straight,” Craggs said. So I did, mostly. It got the “Breaking” headline, but also a “This Is So Stupid” tag.
Jack Dickey (sports editor, Deadspin): I had just started at Deadspin, and I worried I didn’t know the threshold for publication. My first Friday I gchatted AJ the link to some local news story about a pot bust—I wanted to post it—and I asked him if it was too stupid. “Yeah,” he replied. “Stupid” was not the market I wanted to corner. Then Oddibe hit, and with it the redesign and hiring spree, and everything changed. “This is so stupid”: Deadspin proved that it was willing to publish silly content alongside its renowned super-serious blend, and the site flourished.
A.J. Daulerio (editor-in-chief, Gawker): Here’s what I said about it when it first appeared on the site: “Hey, Oddibe McDowell. I had around twenty of his 1987 baseball cards. Why do we have his water bill?” Then Tommy looked at me like it was the most obvious answer in the world and I never spoke of it again.
Petchesky: It did well. It’s at 46,000 views right now. It got us a great writeup in the newspaper. They wondered if we had paid our tipster scuzz money. We hadn’t, though realizing now just how much mileage we would get, we probably would have.
Dickey: My first brush with the water bill came in June, when Tommy asked me to make a chart in Excel with two vertical axes, one measuring consumption of water and the other measuring the fee assessed. That was impossible—the final version looked like shit, with names of months scrawled on in Craggs’s inimitable MS Paint, and I didn’t even get a credit—but Oddibe demanded the finest work.
Petchesky: We stopped blurring out his account number pretty early on. There was no point. The challenge was coming up with something new to say. How many times can you write “Oddibe McDowell’s water bill is X dollars this month?” The answer is, a lot of times. Part of me always hoped someone would ask McDowell about it, to see if he even knew it existed, but another part enjoyed the idea of him being completely oblivious.
Emma Carmichael (managing editor, Gawker): I never did an Oddibe McDowell water bill post.
Dickey: I did my first water bill post in September, a few weeks after the hurricane. My parents lost power for a week, and a few of the roads in our neighborhood were washed away, so it meant a great deal to me. I put “Ravaged By Irene” in the headline, and the post did a little bit better than the previous month’s iteration.
Dom Cosentino (writer, Deadspin): I’ll never forget that $21 stormwater fee in September, coming as it did when his overall water use was down.
Dickey: I did three more water bills, in November, December, and February. In late 2011 the feature seemed to sputter somewhat, but the new year breathed new life into the water bills.
Dave Shireley (intern, Deadspin): In the early days of my internship, I was given a co-editing role on the late, lamented daily morning feature, Wake Up Deadspin. Searching the archives for a “This Date in Deadspin history,” I chanced upon the maiden entry of our friend Oddibe’s municipal water and sewage bill. It was perfect. I immediately inserted it into Wake Up, looking forward to comparing it with the most recent entry that I knew would be published later that day. It felt like Oddibe and his water bill had finally arrived, and with them, me.
Scocca: We’ve moved across the room since [we started the feature], and we’ve gotten our own full table to ourselves, and A.J. has moved over to Gawker. But Oddibe McDowell’s water bill has never changed. It is what we do. It is who we are.
Broward County Water and Wastewater Services: Water and Wastewater Services (WWS) ePay now has password protection for accessing utility account information online to view statements and/or make payments by Electronic Check or Credit Card in a secure environment. This enhanced feature provides increased security in protecting your utility account information.
Dickey: I feel like we could have kept going. I feel like there was more to say. But, like that great poet Neil Young sang, it’s better to burn out than fade away, and here we are, going out on top. I’m so proud of what we accomplished. “This is so stupid?” Not really, no.
Craggs: Sure, I thought the Polk Awards would take more notice. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. But look: We had a year’s worth of stormwater charges. Some truths are just too heavy for the media establishment.
Oddibe McDowell (Broward County resident): [McDowell was not contacted for this oral history.]