After weighing lukewarm offers from the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Phillies, then taking a long look at his life, Joe Borowski decided that he had enough. The Bayonne native was retiring from Major League Baseball.
“In actuality, I was looking to play another year, maybe two,” Borowski said in a telephone interview from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week. “But with the economy the way it is, it’s hard for teams to be aggressive. There was a lot of uncertainty. Teams would say, ‘Let’s talk,’ but would never follow it up.”
Added Borowski, “So after a few weeks, I sat back and realized that maybe it’s time. I knew I was getting to the end anyway. Instead of hanging on and waiting for a call, I just decided that it was time to step back and enjoy the time with my family.”
With that declaration, the long and winding road known as Joe Borowski’s professional baseball career had officially come to an end, some 20 years after it began when he was drafted out of Marist High School by the Chicago White Sox and signed to a contract.
“I don’t think anyone would have thought it would last 20 years,” said Borowski, who will turn 38 in May. “I have no regrets.”
Borowski’s career, which included 12 seasons in the majors, borders on the incredible and certainly unconventional.
He went through his fair share of peaks and valleys, bouncing back from the scrap heap on several occasions to recapture major league glory. He was the perfect example of patience and perseverance, all rolled into one.
After bouncing around the minor leagues for a few years, Borowski got his first big break with the Atlanta Braves in 1995 and remained with that club for two years. He also had a brief stint with the New York Yankees.
Borowski was then released by both clubs and bounced around from team to team for a while. He played one year with the independent Newark Bears and was with another independent team in Mexico as well during the early part of the decade. At one point, Borowski was seriously considering leaving baseball and trying to become a member of the Bayonne Fire Department.
Borowski was out of the major leagues for four full years.
But then Borowski got the biggest break of his career, when he hooked on with the Chicago Cubs in 2002.
Eventually, Borowski became the team’s closer in 2003, helping the Cubs to the National League Central Division championship, saving 33 games that season. Borowski became a fan favorite in Chicago, mainly because of his fairy tale story.
Borowski spent four years with Cubs.
“I was just coming out of independent ball and playing in Mexico and I got to become an important part of a winning team,” Borowski said. “I think that sticks out in my mind, because it was the turning point of my career. I have great memories of Chicago and I have special feelings of my time there. It was an enjoyable time.”
While pitching for the Cubs, it was determined that he had a torn labrum in his shoulder, but instead of having surgery, Borowski decided to rehabilitate the injury. However, the Cubs released him after appearing in just 11 games in 2005 and he hooked on with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for the second half of the season.
That year, Borowski saved two games as the Indians defeated the New York Yankees in the American League Divisional Playoffs.
After the one year with Florida, Borowski signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the Cleveland Indians, to serve as that team’s closer. Sure enough, Borowski had another fine year in 2007, leading the Indians to the American League Central Division title and leading the American League in saves with 45.
That year, Borowski saved two games as the Indians defeated the New York Yankees in the American League Divisional Playoffs to move on to the AL Championship Series.
But last year, Borowski struggled with an injury to the tricep on his pitching arm and was released by the Indians in July, after appearing in just 18 games.
After he was released by Cleveland, Borowski explored some offers, including one from the Boston Red Sox.
“But I still wasn’t 100 percent recovered,” Borowski said. “I felt like I would be cheating myself if I tried to pitch injured. I figured that I would rehab during the whole off-season and give the arm a chance to heal.”
Borowski said that he was throwing at the beginning of spring training and was reaching 87 to 88 miles per hour on the gun, which is what he was throwing prior to the injury last year.
“Everything was looking and feeling great,” Borowski said. “I was able to hit my spots. The scouts were telling me that I looked great and healthy. But the offers never really materialized. I wasn’t looking for a guarantee, but I was looking to have a chance to make a major league roster. But the talks never got to that point.”
That’s when Borowski realized it was time to call it a career.
“Would I have liked to end my career healthy on my terms? Sure,” Borowski said. “In reality, it’s not my choice. But I looked in the mirror and realized it was time. I can say that I wasn’t blessed with great size or God-given talent, but I made it to the major leagues for 12 years. I can look back and be very pleased with it. I’m happy with the decision.”
Borowski said that the decision was made easier because after his release from the Indians last July, he got to spend time with his wife and two young sons in Scottsdale.
“I got to watch Blaze (age 8) play in his Cal Ripken league and I spent time with Ty (age 3),” Borowski said. “It was unfortunate how it happened, but I got the chance to reconnect with my family and that made it easier. It then wasn’t such a shock to me. It softened the blow.”
Borowski said that he will not be coaxed into making a comeback.
“I’m putting down the glove and the ball for good,” Borowski said. “This way, there’s no uncertainty. I’m turning the page and starting a new chapter in my life.”
Borowski said that he will continue to make his home in Scottsdale. His parents still reside in Bayonne. He also said that he may pursue a new career in baseball, either as a broadcaster or as a member of a major league organization as a scout or a coach.
“I’m exploring opportunities to see what might interest me,” Borowski said. “I played baseball for 20 years and I loved it. I want to do something that I enjoy.”
Borowski was asked if he had reflected on what was truly an amazing career.
“Everything I went through helped to define who I was as an athlete and as a person,” Borowski said. “I tasted failure and I tasted success. I wouldn’t change a single part of it. There were certainly a lot of peaks and valleys along the way, but it made me a stronger person. I truly had a great ride.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.