“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.


     Ronald Gorton was born on October 3, 1933 in Stamford, Connecticut.   Gorton’s star first shined as a member of Gorton High School’s Stamford Black Knights.  In his senior year, Ron was class vice president and co-MVP of the football team.  In his early teens, the adventurous athlete ran away from home to work in the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

“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 (right) lands a hard blow.

Gorton (left) and his fellow Golden Gloves champs celebrate.

While he was in Atlanta, Ron took up boxing, a wildly popular sport in the 1950s.  Once again, Gorton excelled, drawing the attention of the sportswriters, including Jesse Outler of the Atlanta Constitution who dubbed Ron as “The Great Gorton.”  Gorton not only fought well, he captured  the Golden Gloves championship  of Georgia and the Middleweight Championship of the United States Army.  While he was in the army, Ron sang and drummed as the “Singing MP”  in local night clubs for some walking around, fun money.  Ron favored football, but when he learned what the fort’s commanding general Alexander Bolling’s favorite sport was, he poured his soul into baseball.   Ron earned a spot on both the All Army baseball and football teams.

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.

Ron in an episode of "Sea Hunt" starring Lloyd Bridges. 

Gorton was driving around when he saw a sign that the television series Sea Hunt was being filmed there.  Gorton pulled in and approached the star, Lloyd Bridges, and told Bridges that he was a great actor.  He also spotted a man smoking a cigar and doing nothing.  When told that the man was the producer, Ron proclaimed, “That’s what I want to be - a producer!”

Ron in an episode of "Highway Patrol" with Broderick Crawford

Gorton appeared in two episodes of Sea Hunt along with single episodes of Highway Patrol, M Squad, Wagon Train, The Rough Riders and Bat Masterson.

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.

The decade of the seventies saw Ron turn to writing.  1977's “The Soul” was a novel complete with exorcism, murder and the supernatural.  Based partially on his life as a boy, Ron began a revolutionary war against organized religion and the concept of a wrathful God.  In 1978, he renewed his attack on traditional religion by publishing “Lawyers of Hell.” Gorton’s attacks on televangelism led to many talk show appearances including ones on “The Larry King Show” and “Oprah.” The last of the trilogy was  his 1989 book, “The Hucksters of Holiness.”

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.

Ron's appearance on Sea Hunt episode
"Chain of Evidence" 
beginning at 02:48.

Preview trailer of "Panic Button"

Trailer - "That's The Way of the World"