Memories of the Game
By Geoffrey Dunn
Special to the Sentinel
Baseball was big in Santa Cruz County during the 19th Century — so big that Santa Cruz was one of a handful of California cities to host a Pacific Coast League (PCL) baseball team, the West Coast equivalent to the major leagues.
There were also semi-pro and industrial teams scattered throughout the county — from the Felton Woodpeckers to the Watsonville Pippins to a team sponsored by the California Powderworks that played at Pogonip— all sporting strong line-ups and competing more than equitably with teams from across the state.
One of the most heralded of the early local teams was the Ely Electrics, owned by William Ely, the founder of Santa Cruz’s bourgeoning streetcar system. The team featured local sandlot star “Sandow” Otto (brother of famed Sentinel reporter Ernest Otto) and a host of other Northern California standouts, including William “Red Dog” Devereaux and Julius “Jules” Strieb, who played their games at the western end of Ely’s streetcar run, on West Cliff Drive.
In 1898, many of the Electrics formed the Santa Cruz Beachcombers (later the Sandcrabs), owned and managed by the celebrated town booster Fred Swanton in the newly organized PCL. The team played its games directly across from the bathhouses and arcades at the main beach, at what was then known as Dolphin Field (now the main parking lot for the Boardwalk).
The Beachcombers were led by longtime stalwarts Devereaux and Strieb, as well as by brothers Ed and Charley Daubenbiss, of the pioneer Soquel logging family.
Two other players from the Beachcombers, “Turkey Mike” Donlin and Frank Arellanes, found their way to the major leagues. Donlin was to compile a .333 lifetime batting average over a 12 year big league career, while Santa Cruz native Arellanes, an infielder-turned-pitcher whose brothers Abe and Tom also played on the Beachcombers, had his contract purchased by the Boston Red Sox in 1908.
A year later, Arellanes was joined on the Red Sox by another young alumnus of the local sandlots, Harry “The Cat” Hooper. Hooper’s family moved to Capitola in the early 1900s, and after receiving an engineering degree from St. Mary’s College, Hooper played baseball on weekends for teams in Soquel and Alameda before being called up by the Red Sox.
For the next 17 seasons, Hooper was one of the game’s biggest stars, and was regularly among the American League leaders in triples, stolen bases, and assists for outfielders.
Following his big league career, Hooper eventually returned to Capitola, where he served as the city’s postmaster for 25 years and continued to play local baseball well into his forties. In 1971 he was named to Baseball’s Hall of Fame. He died in 1974.
If Hooper was the Golden Boy of local baseball, Hal Chase was its perennial Bad Boy. Chase played his first organized baseball for the semi-pro Soquel Giants before embarking on a professional career that eventually took him to the big show with the New York Highlanders (later the Yankees) in 1905.
Most baseball historians regard “Prince Hal” as the finest fielding first baseman of his era, but he was also an incorrigible drinker and gambler whose off-the-field antics and suspicious on-the-field miscues eventually got him expelled from the game.
While Santa Cruz Cruz County had ample representation in professional baseball during the game’s so-called Golden Era, its connection to the big show during the years surrounding World War II was relatively slim.
Bud Beasley, a star on the 1929 Santa Cruz High team and who later became a legendary coach in Reno, Nevada, was a celebrated left-handed pitcher for the Sacramento Solons and Seattle Pilots of the PCL.
Another former Santa Cruz High pitcher, Bill Clemensen, pitched briefly for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the years surrounding World War II.
Many young Santa Cruz men went off to fight in Europe and the Pacific during the war, and, when they returned, tried to reclaim their lost youths. A number of fine semi-pro teams sprung up locally in this era, the most prominent being the Santa Cruz Seahawks and Swiss Dairy. The later club featured a number of local Italian-American players, including Louie Castagnola, Dick Fassio, and Nig Tamagni, as well as brothers Fred and Paul Juhl and Johnny Reis.
The one certified Santa Cruz star during the war era was another player of Italian descent, Joltin’ Joe Brovia, better known as the “Davenport Destroyer.” Also a product of Santa Cruz High,
Brovia was one of the most feared hitters in PCL history and was named to the all-time PCL team, based on his lifetime PCL batting average of .305 and 194 career homers.
Finally, at the age of 33 — after 16 years in professional baseball — Brovia got his chance at the major leagues, when the Cincinnati Reds called him up for a cup of coffee in the middle of the 1955 season, collecting a couple of singles in 18 pinch hit appearances.
“Santa Cruz has always been a great baseball town,” Brovia said before his death in 1994. “When I grew up here, hell, that’s all we could think about: baseball, baseball, baseball. It’s a great game.”