It’s a sad, yet happy day in Washington, D.C. One that, unfortunately, was coming sooner rather than later.
Sean Doolittle, the dominant Nationals reliever and fan favorite, announced his retirement today.
Where do you begin with a player and person who has meant so much to an organization and a city?
Let’s start on the field, since he’s retiring from the sport.
After coming over in a 2017 trade with the Athletics, the left-hander, who turns 37 next week, posted a 2.92 ERA, 1.007 WHIP and 75 saves (third-most in club history) over parts of five seasons with the Nats. He earned an All-Star selection in 2018 - the game that year took place at Nationals Park - and played an integral role on the 2019 team that won the World Series.
He recorded 26 saves with a 1.92 ERA, 0.760 WHIP, 91 strikeouts and just 14 walks in 75 innings with the Nats between 2017-18. But 2019 is when he gave everything he had to the team.
As the only trusted arm in manager Davey Martinez’s bullpen, Doolittle posted a 1.71 ERA with eight saves in 20 appearances through the first 45 games of the season. But the overuse started to get to him as his ERA was above 3.00 in late May.
He worked it back down, however, getting it to 2.72 while recording back-to-back saves in both games of a July 24 doubleheader against the Rockies. But he landed on the injured list in August, making only 17 appearances over the last two months of the season.
That was probably for the best, though, because Doolittle came back in the postseason with a vengeance. Now known as one of the most dominant playoff relief pitchers in Nationals history (1.35 ERA, 0.600 WHIP and 12-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 12 postseason appearances while never blowing an inherited lead during his Nats career), Doolittle made his biggest impact during the 2019 run.
Although he gave up a run, Doolittle earned a hold in the Nats’ Game 2 win over the Dodgers in the National League Division Series. He would proceed to pitch 2 ⅓ scoreless innings in Games 4 and 5 while recording the final out in the Nats’ first-ever playoff multiple-game-series-sealing victory.
With Daniel Hudson away from the team for the birth of his child, Doolittle was thrust back into the closer role for Game 1 of the NL Championship Series. He would record the final four outs and first save of that postseason after Aníbal Sánchez took a no-hitter into the eighth with two outs. Doolittle got credit for holds in Games 2 and 4 as the Nats swept the Cardinals.
Doolittle recorded the save by pitching 1 ⅓ shutout innings in the Nats’ first-ever World Series victory, a 5-4 win over the Astros in Game 1. He would put up 1 ⅔ more scoreless innings en route to his World Series ring.
The workload over his first three seasons with the Nats may have changed Doolittle as a player forever. He was never the same after that. His 2020 season was cut short due to injuries. His return to the Nats last year was even shorter, a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament ending his season after only six scoreless appearances in April.
He never made it back to the majors, pitching in 11 minor league games this season before a knee injury eventually ended his year and career.
But just as Doolittle gave the Nats everything he had on the mound, he gave D.C. everything he had off it.
Doolittle and his wife, Eireann Dolan, were among the most active representatives in the local community in Nationals history. They supported many causes, including veterans’ affairs, LGBTQ rights, refugees, anti-bullying and the team’s Youth Baseball Academy.
Doolittle was twice nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award, which is given annually to the player who “best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.” He was given the Good Guy Award three years in a row from 2018-20, as voted on by members of the local media, for “his always-professional dealings with members of the media, his work in the community and for representing the Nationals organization with class both on and off the field.”
In December, Washingtonian Magazine named Doolittle and Dolan to its 2022 class of Washingtonians of the Year. They were honored for using their platform to support reading programs, D.C. statehood and voting rights, LGBTQ+ inclusion and more.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Doolittle and Dolan were active in supporting first responders on the front lines and providing for those less fortunate in the D.C. area. The two would also publish videos of a book club they would hold together while in quarantine.
Doolittle was also just an incredibly fun and lovable guy off the field.
He is still known today as one of the few Nationals relievers (perhaps the only one) to ride into games from the right field corner on the Nationals Park bullpen cart. He even had a special message to then-14-year-old Nats fan Nathan Swain, who in 2021 had his wheelchair turned into a replica of the Nats’ bullpen cart by the team for Halloween. Doolittle also happened to be Swain’s favorite player.
Doolittle also met with another young fan whose wheelchair was turned into a Nats bullpen cart.
Of course, Doolittle is a massive “Star Wars” fan. He was known for having a lot of souvenirs from the film franchise with him in the clubhouse, none more recognizable than his replica of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lightsaber, a prop he had with him during 2019 postseason celebrations. (He has since retired that lightsaber, claiming it broke from all of the celebrations and champagne.)
That led to him getting his own Obi-Sean Kenobi bobblehead mashup, which was a giveaway at the Nationals’ “Star Wars Day” in 2019.
One of the most epic Sean Doolittle “Star Wars” moments ever was when, while recording a video with the Nationals to be played at the ballpark on “Star Wars Day,” Doolittle responded to a simple question about what the series meant to him by going on a 12-minute-plus rant about the franchise.
He was also incredibly kind to those of us in the media. I will forever be grateful to him for taking time to do a live video with and Mark Zuckerman and me (avid “Star Wars” fans in our own rights) to discuss baseball and the films during the 2020 shutdown on May 4. Easily one of the highlights of my career.
That is perhaps where Doolittle leaves his biggest and longest-lasting impact on this city. Just by being himself.
Surely, Doolittle’s name will enter the Nationals’ Ring of Honor in the near future. Until then, the team is honoring him Friday night at the ballpark. They also announced, in recognition of his commitment to club and community, that Nationals Philanthropies will match donations up to $6,300 in honor of his No. 63 to SMYAL, an organization supported by Doolittle and Dolan, that serves local LGBTQ youth. Fans can visit give.nats4good.org/ThankYouDoo for more information and to donate.
Luckily, even though he is retiring from baseball, Doolittle will still be around, as he and Dolan have settled here in D.C., where it seemed he was destined to be after being the A’s first-round pick in 2007 out of the University of Virginia, where he was teammates with Ryan Zimmerman.
“From the moment I was traded here, you welcomed my wife and me to your city and your team,” he said in his statement announcing his decision while addressing Nats fans directly. “So much so that we decided to make D.C. our forever home. The 2019 World Series title will always be the highlight of my career because we were able to share it with you. I don’t have the words to tell you how grateful I am for your support during my time here in D.C.”
I don’t think D.C. has the words to tell him how grateful we are for him and his wife.
I did my best here, but even this does not feel like enough.
So thank you, Sean. Thank you for everything you did for the Nationals. Thank you for everything you did for D.C. And thank you for sticking around.
For one last time, let’s all let out a loud and long, “DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”
That's 63 O's, for those counting at home. Still doesn't seem like enough.