Oct. 7, 1933 – June 14, 2017
Joe Martucci grew up in a pioneering Buffalo pizza family, but his ambitions were elsewhere.
He studied aeronautical mechanics at Burgard Vocational High School and was a standout athlete in three sports – football, basketball and baseball.
He taught himself how to pitch and had such mastery on the mound that he set records in MUNY League baseball that still stand – 24 strikeouts in nine innings and 30 strikeouts in a 12-inning game. Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez presented him with the MUNY League's most valuable player award one season. The Brooklyn Dodgers scouted him. But then an injury ended his career.
“He always said he never learned to take care of himself,” said his daughter Gina Santa Maria. “He’d pitch doubleheaders. A week before he was supposed to go try out with the Dodgers, he threw his arm out.”
He died Wednesday, June 14 under Hospice care in his Town of Tonawanda home after a long battle with cancer. He was 83.
The youngest of nine children, he had been excused from working in the pizza shop founded in the 1920s on Swan Street by his father, one of the original pizza chefs in the social club that gave Bocce Club its name. Nevertheless, before his father died in 1952, Mr. Martucci promised that he would help his mother keep running the business.
He and his mother moved the shop from downtown Buffalo to a storefront on Walden Avenue, just east of Bailey Avenue, where it became a mecca for local pizza lovers, praised for its sauce and the shape of its slices, which were square when almost all others were triangular.
Following the death of his mother in the mid-1970s, his wife and children pitched in. He thought of moving the shop, but worried that his loyal customers would not follow him to a new location. After he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000, Martucci’s Pizzeria closed.
In retirement, Mr. Martucci worked part-time for the Town of Tonawanda as a maintenance man at Lincoln Arena and the Youth, Parks and Recreation Department garage until he was almost 80.
He was active in sports for many years as a player and coach. He played MUNY League basketball. For baseball, he switched from pitching to shortstop and played on several championship teams.
Later he coached Little League boys’ baseball and basketball teams and helped coach travel softball teams. Among other achievements, he coached the St. John the Baptist girls’ softball team to a league championship.
His wife of 57 years, the former Judith Ann Mutignani, an office worker for several Erie County departments, died in 2015.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include two sons, Joseph Jr. and Victor; six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Services will be private.