Written by Brittany Giroli, David Aldridge and Melissa Lockard
Sean Doolittle, a two-time MLB All-Star and former Washington Nationals outfielder, will retire from baseball “after 11 great seasons,” he announced Friday on social media.
Doolittle, 36, spent the first six seasons of his MLB career with the Oakland Athletics before joining the Nationals in 2017. He helped Washington win its first World Series title in 2019, and described the experience as “ Highlights of his career.”
Doolittle thanked the A’s and Nationals, along with the Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners, for hosting him for a “gap year” in 2021 before returning to Washington on a one-year deal.
Doolittle last appeared in the majors in 2022 before undergoing elbow surgery that summer. He signed a minor league contract with the team in November. Through 463 major league games, Doolittle posted a 26-24 record with a 3.20 ERA and 112 saves.
The athleteReal-time analysis:
Doolittle was the key to Washington winning the World Series
Doolittle was an integral part of the Nationals’ 2019 World Series team, one of the few relievers that manager Dave Martinez trusted that October as the Nats pulled off an improbable championship. When Doolittle was at his best, he was a commanding presence late in the inning, saving a career-high 29 games for Washington in 1919. Always wanting the ball, Doolittle often worked around injuries and provided a cerebral look at pitching. He jumped on the Nats bullpen bandwagon and wasn’t afraid to be honest about things, on and off the field. — Geroli
Doolittle’s lasting legacy in DC
Doolittle’s arrival in D.C. in May 2017 as a first-rounder was one of Mike Rizzo’s best trades ever during his tenure as a National. At the time, Washington’s bullpen was a blazing hot mess, a flashing red light for the team’s postseason hopes. But Rizzo acquired Doolittle and Ryan Madson from Oakland for then-closer Blake Treinen, who had been disruptive in the first half of the 2017 season, Jesús Luzardo, one of Washington’s top prospects, and infielder Sheldon Neuse. Luzardo, now in Miami, has become a solid starter, but Washington thrived after signing Doolittle and Madson. Madson became Dusty Baker’s setup man, and Doolittle, primarily a one-pitch pitcher — a high-level fastball — excelled as the Nats approached, converting 22 of 23 save opportunities, including one in the Division Series, in ’17.
He was just as good in 2018, making his second All-Star appearance, with 25 regular-season saves, a 1.60 ERA, 0.600 WHIP, and 1.89 FIP. Furthermore, he and his wife, Erin Dolan, became mainstays in the D.C. community, promoting biblical literacy and other issues in the city, and both became fan favorites. Doolittle’s love of Star Wars — he had a lightsaber in his closet — and other esoteric topics always make him an interesting interviewee, a man who understands that there’s more to life than balls and strikes.
Doolittle was one of the major keys to Washington’s 2019 World Series title. Washington spent last winter lavishly bolstering its bullpen, but most of its acquisitions fizzled as the team started 19-31. Doolittle was one of the only pitchers to perform close to the expected standards, coming out seemingly night after night before the All-Star break. But he took more hits than ever in D.C., and a heavy workload in the first half of the season led to right hamstring tendinitis and a stint on the injured list. Washington had to go get reinforcements for its proximity, obtaining Daniel Hudson, among others. Hudson became the de facto closer in 1919 during the postseason, with Doolittle, upon his return, becoming the setup man. But Doolittle got the latest hits in Washington’s improbable Game 5 win over the Dodgers in the Division Series.
As with many of the Nationals, Doolittle was not himself physically after that tournament. But he’s a major part of the team’s history, and will always be welcomed in D.C. — Aldridge
How Doolittle left his mark with an A
Doolittle will be remembered for his heroics as a clutch reliever in the late innings of tight ball games, but early in his professional career, it seemed his path to the major leagues was through the batter’s box. A first-round supplemental pick of the Oakland A’s in 2007, Doolittle was a two-way player at the University of Virginia, but the A’s liked his bat, athleticism and envisioned him as a starter in right field or first base for them. He was a rising star as a center fielder early in his career, hitting 22 home runs in the 2008 season split between High A and Double A.
Doolittle entered the 2009 season as one of the top prospects, but he injured his knee while playing in the outfield in Triple A and missed most of that season. Then he lost the 2010 and 2011 seasons due to knee pain and a wrist injury, and his career seemed to be stalling. That’s when everything changed for Doolittle. Encouraged by director of player development Keith Liebman and minor league pitching coordinator Garvin Alston, Doolittle returned to his roots in late 2011 and furthered those efforts during the team’s fall instructional league that year. Entering the 2012 season, there were few expectations of what Doolittle could accomplish on the mound, but he went out and pitched and cruised through High A, Double A and Triple A, reaching the major leagues by early June. His arrival in Oakland coincided with a franchise turnaround that took the A’s from a projected 100-loss team to surprisingly winning the AL West division title by the end of the season.
Doolittle spent six seasons with the A’s, posting a 3.09 ERA in 253 innings with 300 strikeouts and 47 walks. He also made three postseason appearances with the club and made the 2014 All-Star team. But stats aside, the relationship he created with the A’s fan base — especially those in the right stands — is what people in Oakland will likely remember . He embraced their stance on heavy metal music and became a symbol of an era of A’s baseball known for defying expectations. — Lockard
(Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)