Ian Desmond was never anyone to do things in a big, splashy way, so it wouldn’t have been hard to miss the former Washington Nationals’ shortstop’s retirement announcement, tucked away in Jon Heyman’s New York Post notebook column.
The 36-year-old is officially calling it a career after an 11-year major league run that started with the Nationals in 2009 and ran through 2019 in Colorado.
Still under contract with the Rockies, Desmond opted out of the 2020 and 2021 seasons before the Rockies declined his $15 million team option for 2022.
Throughout his career, Desmond passionately devoted himself to the communities where he’s lived and played, and his top priorities remain his family and the community in Sarasota, Florida.
Nominated multiple times for the Roberto Clemente Award while with the Nationals and Rockies, Desmond has dedicated himself wherever he’s played.
A story from the Nationals’ Youth Baseball Academy, which Desmond helped found in 2014, was prominent in a July 2020 Instagram post that addressed the tensions in America following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer and amid the COViD pandemic.
Desmond shared the pain he felt growing up and playing baseball as a biracial man, and called out a culture of racism, sexism and homophobia in the game, as well as a lack of interest in making the game accessible and fun for kids.
In opting out of the past two seasons, Desmond walked way from more than $23 million in salary and founded a nonprofit, Newtown Connection, that supports youth baseball in Sarasota County and uses the sport to teach healthy living, leadership, and inclusion.
That work continues for Desmond as he wraps up a career where he his humble nature often concealed how he struggled to get the recognition he deserved.
Fans who watched the final seasons of his career in Texas and Colorado may have their own way of remembering Desmond’s time there. Nationals fans, however, should remember him as a cornerstone of the team as it as it made the transition from doormat to annual contender during his tenure from 2009-2015.
Desmond matured with the Nationals organization and helped establish the veteran bedrock of a the team that finally broke a 95-year championship drought in 2019.
But Desmond was never fully appreciated by many Nats fans, who criticized his defense and showed little patience for a slight dip in his batting average that coincided with the disastrous 2015 season.
As the Montreal Expos’ first-round draft choice in 2004, the season before they moved to Washington, Desmond spent the first ten seasons of his career in the Nationals’ organization and made his big league debut on September 10, 2009, as the Nats wrapped up their second straight 100-plus loss season.
In his first two full seasons, Desmond averaged .261/.303/.374 as the team slowly improved to 69-93 and 80-81. In 2012, with Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth in the lineup, Desmond settled into the No. 5 spot in the order, and averaged .292/.335/.511, with a career high 25 home runs as the Nats ran to a best-in-baseball 98 wins and the National League East title.
That started a three-season run of Silver Slugger awards and a four-year run where Desmond averaged 22 homers and 77 RBIs. He developed a reputation for a clutch bat as the Nationals won another division title in 2014. He did have a career-high 34 errors during his first season as a starter in 2010, but averaged 22 per season as the Nats’ shortstop after that.
But as the Nats struggled and manager Matt Williams lost the clubhouse in 2015, Desmond’s critics still panned his defense, and focused on a batting average that fell from .280 to .233 in two seasons, and a high strikeout rate, nearly four times as often as Desmond walked.
Teammates, coaches and opponents all praised Desmond’s professionalism, attitude, and value as a teammate.
Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell responded to a string of criticisms by citing Desmond’s brains, leadership, speed, power, range, durability, and superior metrics to other shortstops.
Still, after team with postseason aspirations struggled to finish a few games above .500, the Nats did not make Desmond a qualifying offer, moving on with Danny Espinosa at shortstop.
Desmond went on to an All-Star season as an outfielder with the Texas Rangers before signing with the Rockies in 2017.
While the Nats went on to more success and eventually a World Series title in 2019, it was veterans like Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, and Jayson Werth who set the tone and expectations during the team’s division championship seasons and broke in Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and other future stars.
While he might not have a ring, Desmond was an integral part of the Nationals’ organization as it grew and progressed toward the 2019 World Series title.