Brian Kowitz

This article was written by Jack Zerby

Brian Kowitz (ATLANTA BRAVES)Brian Kowitz, a speedy, defensively-gifted outfielder, worked his way from college stardom through five-plus minor-league seasons to a call-up with the Atlanta Braves that, brief as it was, earned him a World Series championship ring.

The compact (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) Kowitz was a schoolboy phenom in Baltimore, then an Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year before the Braves made him a ninth-round pick in the June 1990 draft and he embarked on his professional career. Although he advanced steadily through the minors and was having a solid International League season at Triple-A Richmond when promoted to the majors in June 1995, Kowitz was returned to Richmond when David Justice came off the disabled list. By the next season Kowitz cut his ties with Atlanta and bounced around other International League outposts affiliated with American League teams. At age 26, he left Organized Baseball, finished his bachelor’s degree, then returned to play a few games of professional independent baseball in 2000. After baseball he concentrated on a career in finance and insurance and became active in community affairs in suburban Baltimore.

Brian Mark Kowitz (“Co-wits”) was born in Baltimore on August 7, 1969, to Jack and Patricia A. Kowitz. Jack, a retired lawyer, and Patricia now live in Southwest Florida. Brian has a younger brother, David, a Baltimore attorney.

Jack’s parents – Brian’s paternal grandparents – Ben and Shirley Schneiderman Kowitz, met in the Budzyn concentration camp in Poland during World War II; Holocaust survivors, they reunited and were married in 1945. They emigrated to Baltimore in 1949. Initially working as a night-shift upholsterer, Ben saved enough money to open a grocery store, and at the time of his death in 2002, owned a chain of 13 grocery stores in West and Southwest Baltimore, managed by his sons Joseph and Ervin.1 Like Jack, a fourth Kowitz son, Ronald, is also a retired lawyer.

Left-handed all the way, Brian excelled at baseball, basketball, and football at Boys’ Latin School of Maryland, a Baltimore prep school better known for its lacrosse program. As a senior in the 1986-87 academic year, he passed for more than 900 yards as the Lakers’ quarterback, led the basketball team with just shy of 17 points per game,2 and was named honorable mention as an outfielder on the All-Metro-Baltimore baseball team.3 In the summer of 1987 he was a member of the Randallstown-Baltimore County Liberty Road League senior all-star team in National Amateur Baseball Federation competition; Kowitz’s bases-loaded double in the top of the eighth inning paced his team to the Federation World Series title in Youngstown, Ohio, as Liberty Road defeated the Long Island Tigers, 7-6.4

Kowitz moved on to a solid baseball career at Clemson University, although he had been predicted to have the lowest ceiling of the three scholarship players the South Carolina baseball powerhouse recruited from the Baltimore area in 1987.5 He manned all three outfield spots for the Tigers for three seasons with only a single error committed near the end of his junior-year campaign in 1990 marring his defensive work, and authored a 37-game hitting streak that same season, lifting him to a .403 batting average.6 He explained, “I’m more mature at the plate. I’m taking every pitch one at a time. Plus, I’m hitting the left-handed curveball, and I’ve never done that in the past.”7 He also gave credit to the academic preparation he received at Boys’ Latin: “I’m dyslexic, and I got the attention I needed at BL.”8

Kowitz’s fine season was rewarded with his selection as 1990 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year. His 1989 Clemson coach, Bill Wilhelm, said, “I think it’s very appropriate that Brian got this award because I know how hard he’s worked to make himself a better player.”9 Kowitz was a Clemson honor-roll student with a three-year grade-point average over 3.0,10 but Wilhelm predicted that he could have a decision to make that spring: continue school or opt for a professional baseball contract.

The Braves fulfilled that prediction, selecting Kowitz in the ninth round of the June 1990 draft. He signed, putting school and his solid academics on a back burner for the time being. Atlanta started him at the short-season Rookie League level, with Pulaski (Virginia) in the Appalachian League. Kowitz got off to an excellent start, hitting .324 with some speed (13-for-20 in stolen bases) and surprising power (of his 59 hits, 13 were doubles, one a triple, and eight were home runs); he slugged Appalachian League pitching at a .538 rate, the highest in his professional career. He was named to the Appalachian League All-Star team11 and was promoted three rungs to Double-A Greenville (South Carolina) in the Southern League for 20 games as the 1990 season wound down.

To open the 1991 season, Kowitz, seen by the Braves as a leadoff hitting possibility, was assigned one level lower than Greenville, to the venerable Durham Bulls in the high-A Carolina League. He hit .254 in 354 plate appearances there and again earned promotion to Greenville, this time for 35 games. Kowitz played with the same teams but in a different progression in 1992. He opened the season at Greenville and hit .286 in 21 games, but on May 10 was assigned back to Durham. There, as Kowitz became more familiar with professional pitching and was spotted lower in the batting order, he upped his average to .301 and drove in an impressive 64 runs.

Atlanta kept Kowitz at Greenville for most of the 1993 season. He solved Southern Association pitching for a .278 average in 514 plate appearances – working 60 walks against 56 strikeouts; this time his late-season move was to the Triple-A Richmond Braves in the International League. Kowitz got 54 plate appearances there in 12 games and closed out the year at .277 between Greenville and Richmond.

With all of baseball, Kowitz went through tumult when a Players Association strike ended major-league play after August 11, 1994, wiped out the postseason, and extended into February 1995.

That season, 1994, Kowitz had been initially assigned to the Braves’ minor-league spring-training camp. He was called up to the big club near the end of camp and responded with game-winning hits on March 27 and April 2.12 Atlanta manager Bobby Cox had high praise for Kowitz after these heroics: “I like Brian Kowitz. He’s a college kid and he never makes an error. And he’s always hit. I’ve always thought that he was going to hit with us.”13 But with an outfield of Justice, Ryan Klesko, and Roberto Kelly, and with Deion Sanders and Tony Tarasco in reserve, Kowitz, now 25, was ticketed for further Triple-A seasoning at Richmond in 1994. He excelled there, hitting an even .300 in 519 plate appearances as an everyday outfielder, driving home 57 runs, and stealing 22 bases in 30 tries. He even got a pitching win on May 12, when he was called in from left field as Richmond’s fifth pitcher in the 15th inning of a scoreless tie against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at Richmond. Kowitz navigated two scoreless innings but gave up the first run of the game in the top of the 17th. Leading off the home half, however, he singled, then scored the tying run and was the winning pitcher as Richmond scored again later in the inning and won, 2-1, in 5 hours and 7 minutes.14

That September, as major-league play had been stilled by the strike but the minors continued, Kowitz was a crucial element in Richmond’s Governor’s Cup three-game sweep over Syracuse to the 1994 International League championship, with a pair of home runs in the Braves’ 11-7 win in the second game.

But despite his accomplishments in late spring training, Cox’s accolades, his fine season in Triple A, and his contributions in the league championship series, Kowitz wasn’t on Atlanta’s 40-man roster when the Rule 5 draft rolled around in December 1994. Uncertainty about whether the strike would wipe out the 1995 season could have been a factor, but for whatever reason, the Braves left Kowitz exposed. The Minnesota Twins selected him and placed him on their 40-man roster; Kowitz, hoping to make the majors with Minnesota, worked on conditioning back at home in Owings Mills, the Baltimore suburb where he grew up, as the strike continued and baseball ownership used replacement players in an ersatz and embarrassing “spring training.”15 Minor leaguers – those not holding coveted 40-man roster spots as Kowitz did – were faced with deciding whether to endanger their potential major-league careers by participating in games with the replacements. Few did; Kowitz was spared the decision.

The strike was ultimately settled16 on March 31 – but only by a court injunction issued by future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the US District Court in Manhattan – the replacements scattered, and the Players Association players, including Kowitz, reported for their delayed spring training on April 5.17

Kowitz had to have been buoyed by an item in the April 10 Sporting News putting him in the mix for Minnesota’s left-field job.18 And his camp play was impressive enough to warrant a Twins contract reported on April 15,19 but as the belated spring training drew to an end, he suffered a hamstring injury20 serious enough for Minnesota to place him on waivers and then, when he cleared, return him to the Atlanta organization under the terms of Rule 5. By April 24 the Twin was once again a Brave.21

When the hamstring healed it was back to Richmond once again for Kowitz, who had come so frustratingly close to opening the season with Minnesota. He aptly called it “an emotional roller coaster,” adding, “I did a lot in Richmond the year before and I had to go back and do it again. I was so mentally prepared to be in Minnesota. It kind of took a little piece out of me.”22

Kowitz had been keeping track of the numbers in the Atlanta outfield and knew that the Braves had traded two outfielders (Tarasco and Kelly) for one (Marquis Grissom) going into 1995. “‘I thought I’d be the next guy who came up,’” Kowitz said. He was right. In early June a nagging shoulder injury put David Justice on the disabled list, leaving the Braves in need of a left-handed-hitting outfielder with some seasoning. They summoned Kowitz, who said: “You have to be in the right place at the right time.”23

He arrived in Atlanta from Richmond on Friday, June 2, 1995. The Braves were hosting the Houston Astros for a weekend series at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. On Friday and Saturday, Kowitz took in the major-league atmosphere from the dugout, but on Sunday, June 4, he got Cox’s call as a fifth-inning pinch-hitter for starter Tom Glavine, who was on the wrong end of a 5-0 score. Kowitz wasted no time, ramming the first pitch he saw from Shane Reynolds down the left-field line for a double that scored Charlie O’Brien from third base with Atlanta’s first run of the game.

Obviously liking what he had seen and perhaps recalling Kowitz’s late 1994 spring training, Cox installed Kowitz in right field, hitting leadoff, for the next four homestand games, against the Cubs, then the Cardinals. On June 5 the rookie kept his on-base percentage perfect with a hit-batsman to lead off the Atlanta first inning, then scored on Chipper Jones’sdouble; in the sixth he executed a perfect bunt that scored O’Brien from third, and “Bobby Cox loved it.”24 Kowitz singled in wins over Chicago on June 6 and 7 and again on June 10 against St. Louis. But that was it for him as a starter. Cox put Mike Kelly in right field and the leadoff spot on June 11; Kowitz got into that game only as a pinch-hitter for pitcher Steve Bedrosian in the third inning. He drew a walk.

Through Kowitz’s five starts the Braves went 4-1. He fielded six of six chances perfectly playing all three outfield positions over 53 innings, but after his perfect start at the plate, he had cooled and hit only .167 in 28 plate appearances in 10 games.

Justice was reactivated from the disabled list on June 18. Kowitz was optioned back to Richmond, where he finished out the season with a respectable .280/.360/.365 offensive line in a combined 100 games with the call-up sandwiched in. But although Richmond failed to make the 1995 International League playoffs and he was available, he didn’t get a September recall as the Braves won the NL East title. Having appeared on Atlanta’s major-league roster during the season, Kowitz was honored with a World Series Championship ring after the Braves defeated the Cleveland Indians in six games to win the 1995 World Series. Glavine, for whom Kowitz had pinch-hit back on June 4 in his debut, won Games Two and Six and was named Series MVP.

During the 1995-96 offseason Kowitz married his fiancée, Amy Schwartz, of Pikesville, Maryland. As Kowitz was making his major-league debut that summer, Amy was finishing her master’s degree in special education at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.25

Kowitz had a Series ring but the disappointment of being characterized by a Gannett News Service sportswriter as “going nowhere in the Braves system,”26 as he contemplated his seventh year with the Atlanta organization. Dropped from Atlanta’s 40-man roster, Kowitz declared free agency27 and went to 1996 spring training as a nonroster invitee with the Detroit Tigers. By March 16, however, he was assigned to minor-league camp and started the season back in Triple A with the Toledo Mud Hens. After hitting a disappointing .191 in 24 games with Toledo, he was released and caught on in May with the Blue Jays’ Syracuse Chiefs, the club he had helped defeat for the International League title two years earlier.28He hit marginally better (.241) with Syracuse over 34 games, but he had become a career minor-leaguer, was limited by an ankle injury,29 and seemed to see baseball’s handwriting on the wall for him.

So instead of trying to catch on with yet another major-league organization in 1997, Kowitz went back to Baltimore County, enrolled at Towson University and finished his bachelor’s degree in sports management and business administration. With his education complete, and getting started with his life’s work, he took a 13-game foray back into professional baseball in 2000, playing 13 late-season games with the independent Aberdeen (Maryland) Arsenal of the Atlantic League. Now 30, he hit a refreshing .432, playing mainly as a first baseman.

After Towson, with the brief detour in Aberdeen, Kowitz concentrated on the financial-services industry. He operated his own planning firm for seven years through 2011, then became a principal in Heller Kowitz Insurance Advisors in Lutherville, Maryland. He continued there as of 2019, focusing his practice on insurance products for professional athletes, sports executives, doctors, lawyers, and businessmen. He joined the advisory board and was an instructor with The Baseball Warehouse, a Baltimore-area entity that “educates players, coaches, and parents regarding the many aspects of [baseball], with the goal of promoting and bettering the game of baseball at all levels.”30

Kowitz, a member of both the Boys’ Latin School and Clemson University athletic halls of fame, is active with charities and other community groups in and around his and Amy’s home in Owings Mills, coaches youth baseball, basketball, and football teams, and supports Jemicy School, an Owings Mills lower-through-upper-and-preparatory school focused on educating students with dyslexia and related language-based learning challenges. Two of the Kowitzes’ three children attend the Jemicy School.31

Last revised: February 11, 2021

 

Sources and acknowledgments

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used the Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet.org websites for player and team pages, box scores, and game logs. Except for the citation from The Sporting News, accessed through the Paper of Record.com website, all newspaper citations were accessed through Newspapers.com.

I appreciate the time Brian Kowitz took from his busy family life and business commitments to review a draft of this biography and provide input. Brian Bark, Brian’s friend since prep school and collegiate baseball days, fellow Atlanta farmhand, neighbor, and himself a former major leaguer with the 1995 Boston Red Sox, was a helpful contact.

 

Notes

1 Ben Kowitz obituary, Baltimore Sun, February 20, 2002: B8.

2 Evening Sun (Baltimore), February 12, 1987: 74

3 Evening Sun, June 4, 1987: 26.

4 Baltimore Sun, August 11, 1987: 37. Kowitz continued to play summer amateur baseball for Johnny’s Auto Sales in a Baltimore league through his college career. He had a 33-game hitting streak for Johnny’s in 1989. See: McMullin, Note 5.

5 Paul McMullen, “Kowitz Is Surprise Bumper Crop of Latest Baltimore Harvest,” Evening Sun (Baltimore), May 11, 1990: 30.

6 Ibid.; “Boys’ Latin Grad Kowitz Named Top Player in the ACC,” Baltimore Sun, May 20, 1990: 91; Batting average from 1990 Clemson University entry, Baseball Cube.com, accessed March 2, 2019.

7 McMullen; “Boys’ Latin Grad.” Kowitz hit .274, then .270, in his first two Clemson seasons.

8 McMullin.

9 “Boys’ Latin Grad.”

10 McMullin.

11 “Kowitz Named,” Greenville (South Carolina) News, September 5, 1990: 15.

12 “The Name Is Kowitz,” Greenville News, April 3, 1994: 25.

13 Ibid.

14 And that was just the first game of a doubleheader. Richmond won the second game as well. Times-Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), May 13, 1994: 25.

15 See Tom Verducci, “The Sham Spring,” Sports Illustrated, February 23, 2015, accessed at si.com/vault, March 1, 2019.

16 Gershon Rabinowitz, “Revisiting Replacement Players,” blog at Baseball Essential.com, posted March 15, 2015, accessed February 25, 2019.

17 Due to the late start of spring training, the 1995 Atlanta Braves didn’t open their regular season until April 26.  Both major leagues played shortened schedules of 154 games rather than 162 in 1995, hearkening back to the last pre-expansion seasons, 1960 for the American League and 1961 for the National League.

18 Scott Miller, “Minnesota Twins,” The Sporting News, April 10, 1995: 39.

19 (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, April 15, 1995: 22.

20 Lem Satterfield, “Rave Brave Reviews Could Earn Kowitz Encore,” Baltimore Sun, July 5, 1995: 37.

21 (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, April 25, 1995: 26.

22 Tim Luke, “Braves Notes,” Greenville News, June 4, 1995.

23 Mark Bradley, “Kowitz Finally Finds Right Place at the Right Time,” Atlanta Constitution, June 5, 1995: 37.

24 Bill Tanton, “Boys’ Latin Hits Big Time with Kowitz,” Baltimore Sun.com, posted June 15, 1995, accessed February 25, 2019.

25 Satterfield.

26 Tom Gage, Gannett, “Lots of New Faces in Detroit Camp,” Battle Creek (Michigan) Enquirer, February 13, 1996: 11, 13.

27 I.J. Rosenberg, “Braves Open Roster Spot with Kowitz a Free Agent,” Atlanta Constitution, November 28, 1995: 76.

28 Tampa Tribune, May 23, 1996: 89.

29 Baltimore Sun, September 4, 2000: 40.

30 Brian Kowitz entry, LinkedIn.com, accessed February 25, 2019.

31 Ibid.

Full Name

Brian Mark Kowitz

Born

August 7, 1969 at Baltimore, MD (USA)

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