Mount Holly native played for the old Brooklyn Dodgers in 1933 before resuming military career during World War II
Entering the 2019 season, 23 Gaston County products have played major league baseball.
The second of those who reached the pinnacle of playing America’s pastime was Mount Holly’s William Austin Outen.
A member of the 2019 Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame induction class on May 13 at Gastonia Conference Center, Outen broke into the major leagues in 1933 with old Brooklyn Dodgers. It was part of an 11-year professional baseball career as a catcher and power-hitting left-handed batter.
Born in 1905 in Mount Holly, North Carolina, he was the oldest of eight children of James Franklin Outen and Farris F. Allen Outen.
Before starting school, his father was named superintendent of a cotton mill in the Gaston County township of River Bend and the family moved to that community.
William Outen later enlisted into the U.S. military before graduating from old Mount Holly High in 1925 at the age of 20 after playing football and baseball for the school
He then played football, baseball and track at N.C. State in the late 1920s.
N.C. State was called North Carolina College of Agriculture and Engineering when Outen played football for Gus Tebell and baseball for Charles Doak (for whom the school’s current baseball field is named) and in 1928 was captain of both teams and in 1927 a member of the school’s first football championship team.
William Outen’s semipro career began in 1926 when played catcher for the Mount Holly Yarners of the local American Yarn and Processing Company. He later played semipro in Charlotte in 1927 and 1928 and in Concord in 1928.
In November 1928, he took a $1,200 signing bonus with the New York Yankees and went to spring training in 1929.
After playing in Asheville, Greenville, S.C., Albany, Ga., Jersey City, N.J., and Scranton, Pa., the Dodgers bought William Outen’s contract in 1932 and placed him on the major league roster in 1933.
A backup to then 24-year-old catcher Al Lopez (an eventual Baseball Hall of Famer), William Outen played in 93 games and hit .248 with four home runs and 17 RBIs for a 65-88 team that finished sixth in the eight-team National League.
William Outen’s niece Rachel Outen Goodrum only knew her uncle briefly but heard stories from her father Raymond Franklin Outen, who was 12 years younger than William Outen.
“He got to meet some of the big boys like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (of the New York Yankees) and he backed up Al Lopez,” Goodrum said.
One of Goodrum’s favorite stories involves something William Outen did after he made the major leagues.
Though he never played in the majors again after 1933, he spent five more years in professional baseball, playing in Buffalo, Montreal, Mission (San Francisco), Hollywood, Lenoir, Mayodan, Lexington and Spartanburg.
When William Outen played for Mission, he hit a home out of the stadium in San Francisco.
“The story I was told was that he not only hit the ball out of the stadium,” Goodrum said. “But when it hit out of the stadium, it bounced into the window of a taxi cab driver.”
After William Outen’s baseball career ended in 1939, he wasn’t out of action for long as he was recalled by the Army with the outbreak of World War II. William Outen served in the European and Mediterranean theaters as a corporal in the military police.
After the war ended, he joined the Army Corps of Engineers as a sergeant stationed in Hawaii in 1946.
Upon leaving the military, he was a wool dyer who later died from complications of lung cancer on Sept. 11, 1961 at a veteran’s hospital in Durham at the age of 56. He was later interred at Mount Holly Cemetery.
“Our daddy took us to see our uncle in the hospital in Durham,” Goodrum said of her, her sister and brother. “That’s the last time we saw him.”
In August 2012, William Outen was inducted into the Mount Holly Sports Hall of Fame and six family members and a family friend attended the ceremony.
This time, Goodrum is hopeful her family will again be represented.
“I live in Huntersville and we have some family in Smithfield in Eastern North Carolina,” she said. “We’re really excited about it and happy to hear he’s being honored by Gaston County.”