“The Great Gorton”
Ron Gorton came to Dublin, Georgia sixty years ago to play baseball. Before he turned twenty-four years old, Ron’s professional baseball career was over. Ron had two strikes against him, but he was not out - not yet. In addition to his short-lived career on the diamond, Ron Gorton worked in a major circus, quarterbacked a major college football team, garnered two boxing championship belts, appeared in a half dozen TV dramas and produced a major motion picture - all before he was thirty years old. This is the story of a former Dublin Irishman baseball player and his remarkably unbelievable career on and off the field.
“There was nothing he couldn’t do athletically,” his friend Greg Michie told Bob Kennedy of the Stamford Daily Advocate. Teammate Fred Dugan echoed Michie’s belief that Ron could have been an all star at anything he wanted and agreed that Gorton (center left) was always looking toward his next adventure.
As a sophomore, Ron Gorton was tapped as the savior of football at Villanova University. He was charged with the task of making the Wildcats the “Notre Dame of the East.” During his first season, he got into a bar fight, left the team and joined the U.S. Army at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, where he served as a military policeman.
Gorton returned to Villanova in 1955. Based on a strong performance in the season opener against Baylor, Ron, as a junior, was given a chance to become the team’s starting quarterback. Gorton’s best game came against the Indiana Hoosiers when he threw a 77-yard pass to halfback John Bauer, a mark which remains in the top ten longest pass receptions in Villanova history. Gorton and his coach, Frank Reagan, rarely saw eye to eye. Bob Kennedy related the story that Coach Reagan sent Ron into the game to run out the clock with a blowout loss. Gorton threw three straight touchdown passes. When the coach chastised Gorton for disobeying orders, the quarterback scolded the coach for not putting him in earlier and winning the game instead. That incident seemed to bring an end to Gorton’s college career, although it has been reported that he came back to Georgia and played for the Georgia Bulldogs for two weeks.
Gorton signed a professional baseball contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who assigned the $4,000.00 bonus baby to the Dublin Irishmen of the Georgia State League. Ron, who was encouraged by four of his army teammates who became major leaguers, had hit .349 in the previous season and was hitting nearly .400 for the Fort McPherson team when he signed in late May of 1956. Gorton played shortstop in 80 games for the Irish, who finished dead last in the Georgia State League in their last year of their existence. He was a steady fielder, but a light hitter with a .230 batting average. Gorton was assigned to Jamestown New York team until he was traded to the Olean Oilers farm team of the Phillies during the 1957 season. Just to keep in shape, Ron played in the Puerto Rican league as Ronaldo Gorton Gonzalez. At the beginning of the 1958 season, the Phillies manager Mayo Smith told Ron that he would have to play catcher if he wanted to remain with the team.
“Me, behind the mask! I’ve got to be out there so they can see my face,” Gorton exclaimed as he grabbed his duffle bag and left training camp for good.
With his irresistible charm and compelling personality, Ron Gorton achieved his dream of being the producer of a major motion picture. He set up a suite of plush offices in a swanky office building in New York. Ron hired mega stars Maurice Chevalier, Eleanor Parker, Jayne Mansfield and Mike Conners (of Mannix fame) to star in his first movie, “Panic Button.” The comedy, while not a big success, did receive some favorable reviews.
Buoyed by the success of “Panic Button,” Gorton, who seemed to find enough money to produce his movies, planned to begin production of “Jason.” He was making arrangements to hire Frederic March, Betty Davis, Mickey Rooney and his first cousin, Jack Palance as the stars of a movie, where he would portray himself in the title role. The project never materialized.
Ron Gorton worked with his close friend Sig Shore in producing the 1972 black exploitation film, “Superfly.” In 1975, he teamed with Shore to produce, “That’s The Way of the World,” a music industry film, starring Earth, Wind & Fire. His 1984 film, “The Act,” starred Eddie Albert and Jill St. John. His last film was “A Walk with Death,” which he co-produced with his son, Ron, Jr., who also starred in the movie.
Always a promoter, it seemed only natural that Ron would venture into sports promotions. In January of 1969, he produced the first American “College All Star” Bowl in Tampa in January 1969 which was sponsored by the Tampa Bay area Lions Clubs until 1977.
Later that year, Ron Gorton almost pulled off one of the greatest boxing matches when he secured what was to be the first bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Tampa officials and citizens, objecting to Ali’s stance on religion, the military and Vietnam, forced the cancellation of the highly heralded event, which eventually took place in New York in 1971.
Gorton claimed some credit for the formation of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but never realized his dream of being an NFL or MLB owner, nor did he ever become the governor of his native state of Connecticut.
Ron Gorton was indeed a man of many talents - a true Renaissance man. What he lacked in patience and stability, Gorton more than made up with his extraordinary brilliance, unparalleled talent, indestructible self confidence and dogged determination. He died
on January 31, 2003 in his home in Clearwater, Florida.