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Artifact of the Month: A Jolt from the Past, Santa Cruz Sentinel Newspaper Article about Joltin’ Joe Brovia

Posted by on September 17, 2012

Recently I was looking for something in the MAH archives. You know how it is when you are looking for one particular thing and you find another?  I happened upon a newspaper article about Joe Brovia and a flood of memories about Joltin’ Joe poured out. But I didn’t know him by that nickname.

Joseph John Brovia was born in Davenport on February 18, 1922 to Italian immigrant parents. He was a minor league baseball star, first playing for the San Francisco Seals. According to this 1999 Sentinel article written by Dan Fitch, Brovia was a “Pacific Coast League legend of the 1940s and 1950s. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 210 pounds, he is credited with hitting one of the most famous home runs in San Francisco Bay Area history.” The photo that accompanies the newspaper article shows Joe swinging at a pitch, his body twisted in a powerful contortion, reminiscent of a Greco-Roman sculpture.

Known by many nicknames (Joltin’ Joe, Green Monster) he was called the “Davenport Destroyer” due to his amazing home run hitting at Seals Stadium. Joe crushed the ball and was a crowd-pleaser. The fans loved him. In 1946, Brovia hit the ball so far (estimated between 500-565 feet) that a young Willie Mays is believed to have said “Man, that’s a $5 cab ride.”

In an exhibition game at Santa Cruz’s Harvey West Park, Joe hit the longest home run at the park. “In the ninth inning this guy threw a fastball and I hit that bastard onto Highway 1,” remembered Joltin’ Joe.

During an 18-year career, Joe Brovia’s career batting average was .314 with 214 home runs. His major league career was cut short when he was drafted during World War II, yet he was never bitter. Joe ate, dreamed, and lived baseball. He developed a cult following that greatly contributes to our local baseball lore.

I didn’t know all that when I was growing up in Santa Cruz. To me, Joltin’ Joe was my friend’s great uncle, Uncle Joe. I saw him at their family get-togethers.  I was always invited because they are a close-knit Italian family, and one more guest wasn’t a big deal. I knew Uncle Joe had played baseball but I didn’t know the whole story.

He was a tall man with striking blue eye who was pretty comfortable being the life of the party. My friend Lisa would gravitate to him, and I followed to listen to his straightforward talk about life. Uncle Joe seemed to live with no regrets and was truly grateful for what he had experienced during his baseball career. He was sharp, funny, and when we were of drinking age, we would join him around the keg in the family garage. That’s how I remember Joltin’ Joe Brovia. Salute, Uncle Joe.