We are saddened to report that SABR member Robert G. “Hank” Utley, 89, died Wednesday, March 19, 2014, just days shy of his 90th birthday, at the Hospice Home of High Point in High Point, North Carolina.
He was a SABR member since 1992. According to the Concord (N.C.) Independent Tribune, “his nickname came from Hank Greenberg, the great slugging first baseman of the Detroit Tigers. Utley said stories about Greenberg’s personal integrity, along with his baseball skills, were what attracted him. Through the years, Utley built one of the best Greenberg collections in the country and donated several items to Ted Williams’ Hitters Hall of Fame in Florida.”
He was the co-author of two books for McFarland & Co.: The Independent Carolina Baseball League, 1936–1938: Baseball Outlaws (with Scott Verner) and Outlaw Ballplayers: Interviews and Profiles from the Independent Carolina Baseball League (with Tim Peeler and Aaron Peeler), and wrote biographies of Dick Culler and Alabama Pitts for the SABR BioProject. As the Independent Tribune reports, “Many hours of taped interviews and most of Utley’s research papers and photos were donated to the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Many of the great players of the era talked with Utley, including Lawrence Columbus “Crash” Davis, who was one of the inspirations for the baseball movie Bull Durham.”
Born March 22, 1924 in Concord, North Carolina, to Robert Henry “Jack” Utley and Ruby Porter Utley, Hank was a 1942 graduate of Concord High School, served four years in Army Air Corps in World War II and graduated in 1950 from N.C. State University, where he was the first scholarship player on the baseball team.
He worked at Collins & Aikman in Concord, and Albermarle, Chemstrand Corp. in Decatur, Alabama, and retired as Director of Cabarrus County Boys & Girls Club in Concord. He was a leader in bringing girls into the Boys Club and starting the Keystone Club. Along the way, he visited the White House and served as a model for what became the national Boys & Girls Club. After retiring, Utley began researching the textile league baseball teams and players of his youth in Concord and Kannapolis and across the Piedmont. More information about Utley and his research, including on Easter Monday baseball in Raleigh, is included on his website www.baseballoutlaws.com.
Utley is survived by his wife, Jean Ritchie Utley, a daughter, a son and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The family will receive friends from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Monday at Wilkinson Funeral Home in Concord. Graveside services will follow at 3 p.m. at Oakwood Cemetery. Memorials may be made to the Boys & Girls Club of Cabarrus County or Hospice of the Piedmont.
Originally published: March 25, 2014. Last Updated: March 25, 2014.