Returning to the good company of Gorrie

Dave Gorrie
Dave Gorrie

By Mark Patton, Santa Barbara News-Press Superstar Senior Writer

If you want to really know somebody - a guy like the late, great Dave Gorrie - check out the company he keeps.

A lot of them, including Gorrie's wife Linda and family, will be at UCSB this weekend for the All-Gaucho Reunion, honoring the former athlete and coach, and raising money for the baseball stadium gate that will be named in his honor. (For details, go to ucsbgauchos.com/gorrie).

Everybody wanted to know Dave Gorrie. He had a warm disposition, matinee-idol looks, and the prowess to become perhaps the greatest two-sport athlete to ever play at UCSB.

He broke the school record for football rushing yards one season and then for baseball slugging percentage the next - a mark of .688 that still stands.

And yet, Gorrie's fondest memory of those playing days was of the two guys who had his back in that football backfield - "Playing with my brothers Dick and Doug meant a lot to me," he explained - and of "the scrappy group of guys" who joined him in the quest to win a league baseball championship in 1952.

Two decades later, he coached UCSB to the brink of the 1972 College World Series, denied only by eventual national champion USC.

And yet, the guys he most preferred to hang out with in those days included a fan who was bound to a wheelchair by cerebral palsy, and by the guy who mowed the grass and raked the infield at Campus Diamond.

Gorrie embraced Phil Womble as one of the guys, even when that entailed a good-natured rib. "It's a real give-and-take with him and the rest of us," he explained. "He's part of the locker-room humor. We get on him, and he gets on us."

When the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table voted Gorrie into its Hall of Fame in 2001, he insisted that Womble be the one to induct him. No speech was ever more garbled - or heartfelt.

And of Gus Munoz, his one-man field crew, he said there was no one "ever so loyal and generous and interested in what our players did and how the field was kept."

He noted Munoz's retirement by saying, "I consider Gus to be one of my all-time good friends."

Gorrie retired from this good earth two years ago at age 84, passing away in Texas - far from the school he loved and to which he devoted more than a quarter-century of his life.

Mike Simpson, a former player and assistant coach for Gorrie who succeeded him as head coach, was flying home from his funeral when it struck him:

"He spent only a few years in Texas, and 19 at UCSB - we need to do something for him in Santa Barbara," he recalled saying. The idea for a Gorrie Gate was born.

Gorrie graduated from UCSB in 1953, spent time in both the U.S. Navy as well as in the minor league systems of the New York Giants and Kansas City Athletics, before returning to the campus to coach the Gauchos in 1960. He won 343 games, and many more hearts.

It didn't take him long to win over Larry Sleep and Rich Emard, two recruits who had just won a state junior college championship with a 40-0 season at Cerritos.

"We were feeling pretty good about ourselves, maybe a tad cocky, and had signed a letter-of-intent to play in Illinois," Sleep said. "Coach suggested a drive up the coast for a friendly visit."

Gorrie gave them a ride in a 1950 Ford Sedan with faded blue paint, a torn headliner, and Shaklee bumper sticker.

"So much for rolling out the red carpet," Sleep said. "We were struck by his humility, sincerity and gentle nature. We lumbered around campus, the lagoon and IV. After the visit, I asked Rich, 'What are we thinking? It snows in Illinois, they don't have any beaches, and Coach is the nicest guy in the world.'

"He had an almost boyish quality and charm. He was kind beyond measure and didn't have a mean bone in his body. He wasn't just a coach - rather, a teacher, mentor and friend."

Walt Rehm, a 1970 graduate whose career earned run average of 2.31 ranks third all-time among UCSB pitchers, described Gorrie as a "calming influence."

"He didn't yell at players or get in their face and embarrass them," he said. "We used to laugh that his toughest language out on the field was, 'Oh, horse manure.'"

Simpson was once blown away by how Gorrie kept his composure when one of his pitchers threw a tantrum on the mound when he removed him from a game.

"Ninety-nine percent of the coaches out there would've said, 'That's the end of it for you, young man,'" he said. "But Dave let some time pass, then met with the young man and explained what proper behavior was all about.

"That guy completely changed himself around, and won something like eight or 10 games for Dave."

Gorrie left UCSB with a heavy heart after the 1978 season to become the head coach at Pepperdine, which offered more scholarships, better facilities, a bigger budget, and a better situation for his family. Within a year, he had the Waves finishing third at the College World Series.

"I'm leaving so many people that I love," Gorrie said at the time. "During the late '60s, when Jack Curtice was the athletic director, and the school was growing and everything was on the upswing, it was fun. It really was."

It's getting that way again at UCSB. It's time to remember that Dave Gorrie was the gateway to that.

Mark Patton's column appears on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.

@MPatton_Sports