Sunday, June 26, 2016



Banned from the sport he loved so dearly, Joseph Jefferson Jackson toured the South playing for the love of the game and the bounties of the baseball promoters. Thousands of adoring fans surrounded sandy diamonds throughout the Southeast eager to catch a glimpse of the man they called "Shoeless Joe."   Back in 1925, this unjust exile played two games in Dublin, never losing a step from the decade of the 1910s, when Joe Jackson was one of baseball's greatest players.

Joe Jackson was born in South Carolina in 1887.  At the age of six,  he began to work in the textile mills, which were a dominant part of his community's economy.  Upon his becoming a teenager, Joe was asked to join the mill's baseball team.  Since he worked half of every day in the mill, with an occasional break to play ball, Joe never obtained any degree of education, a misfortune which would haunt him for the rest of his life.    On Saturdays he would pick up a few dollars by playing baseball.  By the time he was twenty, Joe signed to play semi-pro ball with the Greenville Spinners for a lucrative $75.00 per month.  By the end of August, he made it to the major leagues, but disappointedly, Joe only played in five games. Jackson returned to the minor leagues,  only to return to the big leagues in 1910 as a member of the Cleveland Indians  of the American League.

As a rookie in 1911, Joe batted .408, the first and only rookie ever to exceed the highly coveted level of batting supremacy.  His batting average dipped to .395 in 1912, but the twenty-five-year-old phenom led the league in triples.  The following year Jackson led the league in hits and slugging average.    In 1915, Jackson was traded to the White Sox for cash and three players.    For the next five seasons, Joe Jackson was a terror in the batter's box,  never falling below .300.

Joe Jackson's colorful nickname was reportedly penned on him during a mill league game against a team from Anderson, South Carolina.    Joe supposedly discarded a new pair of spikes when they began to rub blisters on his feet.  He played the rest of the game in his stocking feet.  During his first plate appearance without shoes, Joe stroked a triple deep into the outfield, prompting an opposing fan to shout, "You shoeless son of gun, you!"

The zenith of Joe's career came in 1919 when his team, the Chicago White Sox, faced the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. The Sox lost the best of nine series, five games to three.  During the series, Joe was the only player to hit a home run and played outstanding ball in the field and at the plate.   Joe continued to excel in 1920, posting a .385 average and leading the league in triples for the third time.  Joe and seven other White Sox players, an octette dubbed the "Black Sox," were implicated in a scandal which accused Joe and his teammates of throwing the series.  Joe and the others were suspended from baseball until their fate could be determined.

In 1921, Joe Jackson was acquitted of any malfeasance in the series by a Chicago jury.  Despite his exoneration, he was banned from baseball for life by Kennesaw Mountain Landis, baseball's first commissioner, for his failure to disclose his knowledge of the conspiracy.  He returned home to Savannah, where he opened a  lucrative dry-cleaning business.   But as soon as the temperatures of the spring began to rise, offers for his services on semi-pro teams throughout the South and the North came pouring in. In the summer of 1923, Joe began the season playing in Bastrop, Louisiana. Near the middle of the season, Joe accepted an offer by a team from Americus, Georgia.  He led the team to the championship of the South Georgia League, batting .453 in 25 games and .500 in the league championship series over Albany.  He even pitched one inning, surrendering one base on balls,  but no hits or runs.    After the end of the South Georgia League season, Joe played with the railroad team out of Waycross, Georgia.  In 1924, Jackson led the Waycross Coast Liners to the Georgia Championship, doubling as the team's manager during the last half of the season.

In his last full professional season with Waycross in 1925, Joe played center field and managed the Coast Liners to an impressive record of 63-19-3.    The Waycross team played teams from Georgia, as well as ones from Florida, Alabama and South Carolina.    On June 22, 1925, the Coast Liners played the Right of Ways from Macon, Georgia, a team fielded by the Central of Georgia Railroad, on the 12th District Fairgrounds in Dublin.  The ball field, located at the western corner of Telfair and Troup streets, was the scene of a 1918 game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Braves and games between Oglethorpe University and the University of Georgia and the St. Louis "Gas House Gang" Cardinals in 1933 and 1935.

Regretfully, only sketchy details of the game have survived.  Joe's team won the first game, 8-7 on a field described as "rough and in very bad condition."    While no box score was published in the Macon Telegraph, Jackson was credited with leading his team to victory.   After the game, the field was improved for the next day's game, in which the Macon boys won by the score of  11-7.   A third game was apparently canceled, and the teams played two more games in Macon the following weekend.

One of "Shoeless Joe's" teammates on the 1925 Coast Liner team was William C. Webb.  Webb was born in Adrian, Georgia in 1903.  He graduated from Adrian High School and played college ball at Sparks Junior College.  Webb played under Jackson, whom he described as "a good baseball man." In a 2001 interview with John Bell, author of "Shoeless Summer" and "Georgia Class D Minor League Encyclopedia," Webb said of Jackson "Even though he was not educated, he had the ability to make managerial decisions that almost always turned out well.  He was a player's manager, who led by example and had great respect for his players."  Webb admired Jackson, who once let the country boy bat with his famous bat "Black Betsy," a hand-fashioned stick of hickory with a slight bend and which sounded like he hit a brick when he struck the ball.   Webb told his interviewer that he often had to help the uneducated superstar by assisting him in signing his name on the back of his paychecks.  Webb went on to play semi-pro ball well into his thirties.

Joe continued to play some mill league and semi-pro ball until 1941, when he played his first and last night games at the age of fifty-four, belting two home runs in a single game, when most men his age have long given up hopes of playing the game of their youth.  His statistics after 1925 are very scant.  Joe often played under assumed names.  Foster Taylor, the former beloved Mayor of Rentz, Georgia, always recalled the time that he played in a game with the great "Shoeless Joe."   Joe Jackson operated a liquor store and barbecue restaurant in Greenville, South Carolina until his death at the age of 64 on December 5, 1951.

More than a half century after his death, sincere and enduring baseball fans and former players are still seeking to add the name of Joseph Jefferson Jackson to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  After all is said and done, he was absolved of any wrong doing by a jury of his peers and was a player whose .356 lifetime batting average is the 3rd highest in baseball history.  Maybe one day when the  summer skies are brightly shining in Cooperstown, New York, the announcer will step up to the podium and announce the name of "Shoeless Joe" Jackson to his rightful place among the ultimate immortals of the country's national pastime.


“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"