Chink Outen was a powerful left-handed-hitting catcher and fullback at North Carolina State University. In his only major league season, he backed up Al Lopez for Brooklyn in 1933. Outen could handle the stick, maintaining an impressive batting average during his minor league career, most of which was spent at the top level. In 1940 he was recalled into the Army as America prepared for war, putting an end to his time on the diamond.
William Austin Outen was born on June 17, 1905, in Mount Holly, North Carolina, his mother's hometown. He was the oldest of five children of James Franklin Outen, a South Carolina native, and Farris F. Allen Outen. By the time William, known as Willie, was four the family had settled in River Bend, North Carolina, where father's family resided. James supported the family as a superintendent in a cotton mill.
Outen was called Austin by his teenage years. Most likely before age 18, he left home and joined the Army, stretching the truth about his age. As a result, he didn't graduate Mount Holly High School until age 20 in 1925. Outen was a big guy at six feet and 185 pounds by the time he entered college. He played fullback for his high school football squad and caught for the baseball team.
In the fall of 1925 he entered North Carolina College of Agriculture and Engineering, now North Carolina State University; he was preparing to follow his father into the textile business. Outen joined the freshman football, track, and baseball teams. He made the varsity squads as a sophomore, playing baseball and football through 1928. In October 1927 he broke his leg tackling a Clemson player and was out most of the season. In 1928 he captained both the baseball and football teams, leading the baseball nine to the South Atlantic championship. On April 21 he hit for the cycle against Virginia Military Institute. At the university he acquired the nickname "Chink." According to American Nicknames, the first reference of the nickname stems from a baseball game against Clemson where he was referred to as "Plunging Chink." Outen didn't care for the name, continually asking sportswriters to stop using it. In 1929 he joined the New York Yankees for spring training; as a result, he never attained his degree.
In the summer of 1926 he caught for the semipro Mt. Holly Yarners, named for the local American Yarn and Processing Company. In May 1927 Outen signed a contract and took $600 bonus money from the local Charlotte club in the South Atlantic League. He promised to join the club after leaving college. Charlotte placed him on its reserve list in 1927 and again after the 1928 season. In 1928 Outen played outfield for the Concord Weavers, another semipro club sponsored by a textile firm, Cannon Mills, after school let out in June. He led the team with a .445 batting average. Regardless of the previous agreement with Charlotte, Outen signed with New York Yankees scout Johnny Nee in November 1928, and accepted a $1,200 signing bonus. He was then invited to spring training.
The Charlotte club heard this and filed a grievance. The Yankees had in fact signed Outen illegally, so they purchased Charlotte's claim in hopes the issue could be put to rest. Commissioner Landis wasn't appeased. He held a hearing to determine if the Yankees had intentionally tampered with the player. Outen admitted taking money from both clubs and further implicated Nee by claiming that he told the scout so. Outen also claimed he was underage when he signed with Charlotte, so that deal should be overturned. The age manipulation didn't work as well as it did during his Army days; Landis knew that Outen was 21 at the time he took Charlotte's cash. The commissioner fined the Yankees $500 and made Outen return his signing bonus.
In the spring of 1929 Outen impressed Yankees manager Miller Huggins. He was listed as an outfielder, but spent much of his time catching and playing second base. The New York Times stated that he was "quite capable" at the latter position. Outen was a rarity, a powerful 200-pound left-handed hitter who could catch. But he was not an impressive catcher by any means. In fact, he didn't catch regularly until his fourth season in professional ball, and when he did finally set up behind the plate, he led the league in passed balls more than once. In March he was sent to Asheville, North Carolina, in the South Atlantic League for seasoning. He crushed the ball, batting .342 and slugging .536.
The Yankees assigned Outen to Jersey City of the International League in 1930. He caught, played the outfield and then took over first base, but injured his leg and was traded to Albany of the Eastern League for Hal Yordy on July 11. He was traded again in the first week of August to Greenville in the Sally League. Combined, Outen batted .329 in 131 games. On January 3, 1931, he was purchased by Jersey City, but only appeared in 11 games for the club before being shipped to Scranton in the New York-Pennsylvania League. In 136 games for Scranton he batted .325.
Outen switched to catching permanently in 1932, becoming the best hitting backstop in the International League in his third stint with Jersey City. He was named to the league's all-star squad. On September 15 the Brooklyn Dodgers purchased Outen from Jersey City, with whom they had a working agreement.
With the Dodgers Outen backed up Al Lopez in 1933, appearing in 56 games behind the plate. He made the club after spring training in Miami and debuted in the fourth game of the year, a 14-inning game against the New York Giants that ended in a 1-1 tie. He pinch-hit for pitcher Van Lingle Mungo in the top of the 14th, and made an out. His first mention in the New York Times called him Chick Outen. He pinch-ran on April 20, and finally got his first major league hit, a double, off Hal Schumacher of the Giants on the 25th.
He hardly ever made the headlines, but he had a few good games. His two-RBI double was the game-winner against the Braves on June 10. His first homer was quite a blow, over the scoreboard off Paul Derringer of the Reds, but it was the only run in an 8-1 defeat. He and Glenn Wright each homered at Ebbets Field against the Reds on August 26, securing a 4-2 victory. He hit four home runs in all, the last one coming on September 28 in the bottom of the 10th inning in a game against the Braves -- but the Braves had already scored, and the game ended in a tie.
Outen joined the Dodgers for spring training in 1934, but was shipped to Buffalo of the International League on April 16 and never appeared in another major league game. He had seen action in 93 games, 56 of them behind the plate (with only two errors), and hit for a .248 average in 153 at-bats. The four homers helped drive in 17 runs. He scored 20 runs.
He was sent to Montreal in the same league near the end of June. The Dodgers shipped him to the Missions Reds of San Francisco in the Pacific Coast League on September 12 in preparation for the 1935 season.
Outen played with the Missions through 1938, the year they transferred to Los Angeles and were renamed the Hollywood Stars. He fared well on the west coast, batting .341 over the three-plus seasons; however, he was injured and didn't play after mid-July in 1938, returning home. Lenoir in the independent Carolina League needed a catcher for its pennant run in August, so they threw some cash at Outen and he joined the club for a couple of weeks. He batted .283 in 46 at bats. In his final year in pro ball in 1939, Outen bounced around in the low minors. He started the year with Spartanburg, South Carolina, and finished close to home with Lexington in the North Carolina State League and Mayodan in the Bi-State League, batting a combined .351. He even managed Mayodan at the end of the season.
With the outbreak of hostilities in Europe Outen was recalled by the Army. He served in the European and Mediterranean theaters during World War II as a corporal in the military police. After the war, in January 1946, he joined the Army Corps of Engineers as a sergeant stationed in Hawaii. After leaving the military, he was employed as a wool dyer. He never married. William Outen died from complications of lung cancer on September 11, 1961 at a veteran's hospital in Durham, North Carolina at age 56. He was interred at Mount Holly Cemetery.
Special thanks to J.W. Greenbaum of Baseball-fever.com for his valued insight into Outen's military career.
Burlington Daily Times, North Carolina
Christian Science Monitor
Daily News Standard, Uniontown, Pennsylvania
Dunkirk Evening Observer, New York
Evening Huronite, Huron, South Dakota
Gastonia Daily Gazette, North Carolina
Los Angeles Times
New York Times
North Carolina State University Yearbook, 1929
San Antonio Press
Shankle, George Earlie. American Nicknames: Their Origin and Significance. New York: Wilson, 1955.
Utley, R.G. and Scott Verner. The Independent Carolina Baseball League, 1936-1938: Baseball Outlaws. McFarland, 1999.