“I hope people saw how much I enjoyed playing this game,” Sean Doolittle said, as the now-36-year-old reliever announced his retirement on Friday, after eleven seasons in the majors, over which the lefty made 463 appearances and saved 112 games, with a 3.20 ERA and 2.94 FIP for his career, “and [I hope people saw] how much it meant to me to be able to put on a big league uniform.”
Unfortunately for Doolittle, the last few seasons were injury-plagued, and he spent a lot of time and put in a lot of hard work trying to get back to the majors one more time, but that wasn’t to be.
His body gave out on him in the end, and made it clear to him he was done.
Doolittle underwent surgery on his elbow last summer, then had a setback early in Spring Training as he worked to get back, and a knee injury once he started a rehab assignment.
Ultimately, his body eventually let him know it was time to call it a career.
“I got to a point where I finally graduated from [rehab in] Florida and started pitching on a rehab assignment,” Doolittle explained, “and in late June I partially tore the patella tendon in my right knee, at which point I found out that — you know I dealt with tendinitis in that knee for quite a while, and unfortunately at that point it was pretty far torn up, it was already too torn up for the clean-up surgery, so our only option really was to try to rehab it and see if we could get everything else in the leg to be as strong as possible, and really just see how far I could get by the end of the season.”
Towards the end of his time in Florida, as he was preparing to head out for another rehab stint, his knee gave out.
#Nats’ closer Sean Doolittle wanted a shot at closing out the 2018 @MLB All-Star Game in #Nationals Park in front of the hometown fans in Washington, D.C. but an injury will keep him from pitching: “I almost got it. I almost had a chance to do that.”: https://t.co/HXxyGzfUly— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) July 15, 2018
“We stripped it down to the studs and we were trying to strengthen every part of the leg that we could,” Doolittle said. “And I was making progress, I felt like, it just got to a point where I had an outing which was at the time was hopefully going to be my last outing in Florida, and it just wasn’t going to let me do it. It went pretty much all the way.”
Doolittle spent two years trying to get back to the majors and pitch in Nationals Park, but it was clear at that point it wasn’t going to happen.
“I put everything that I had into the rehab processes over the last two years to try to pitch again here at Nats Park,” Doolittle told reporters.
“I did everything I could, and I think that’s why today for me — this is a happy day. I don’t have any regrets, I did everything that I could, and I enjoyed it.
“I enjoyed the process of working on that stuff, and trying to change my mechanics to see if I could figure out a way to take the stress off my knee and still be effective, and also working with the young guys that were down there was a lot of fun too. So I still was getting a ton of fulfillment out of it, I was enjoying it, unfortunately by the end my body just wasn’t going to let me keep going.”
Looking back on his career, now that he’s done playing, Doolittle struggled to single out one memory from his time with the Nationals he could point to as his favorite from the five years he played in D.C., but he managed to narrow it down to one important month, and you likely can guess which month it was.
“It’s the World Series for sure,” he said. “And even inside that, like, I mean, oh my gosh, it’s hard to narrow it down to just one because that whole month was just so special, the Wild Card game, and the way that we won that game and the party we had in the clubhouse after, and winning Game 5 in LA and advancing to the National League Championship Series ... the World Series parade, I think, might be a highlight.
“Sharing it with the fans, I think for me that was just so special. The way the fans supported us. It’s really hard to narrow it down to just one, but October of 2019 is impossible to beat.”
Doolittle was an important part of the roster which was able to bring a World Series title to D.C. for the first time since 1924, so he’ll be a part of baseball lore in the nation’s capital. It started when he was acquired in a trade with the Oakland A’s in 2017, but Doolittle said he could not have imagined then how it would all go over from there, with the championship win in ‘19 and his retirement in Nationals Park on Friday.
“I did not imagine that when I got traded over here,” Doolittle said of everything which followed.
“And I was just talking about it with [Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo] and how like I had heard my name come up in rumors in Oakland in previous trade deadlines and nothing ever happened, and that morning I was getting ready for the game like normal and it was still two weeks before the deadline. So if anything happened I didn’t think it was going to happen any time soon, and [Bob Melvin] called me into his office, and David Forst, the Assistant GM at the time was on the couch, and I was like, ‘Oh, where am I going?’ I guess. You know. And found out I was coming here, and I was like — I looked at — I was aware of how good that team was doing that year, and I was like, “They want me? This team, with these names, they think I can help?’ And it helped a lot that I was going with Ryan Madson, who by that point we had been in Oakland for a year and a half together, and he had already made a huge impact on my career, so to come over, I knew some guys over here, I knew Max [Scherzer], I knew [Ryan Zimmerman] from college. I knew Gio [González] a little bit from the A’s. I knew [Matt] Wieters a little bit. So that helped me kind of settle in and I felt really at home. I felt at home in the clubhouse and the way the city and the fans embraced us made us feel like we had been here for quite a while.”
Doolittle formed a unique bond with A’s fans in his time with Oakland, and he admitted he wasn’t sure if something like that would be possible again.
To Sean and Eireann, y'all. pic.twitter.com/0XkAY8zmty— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 22, 2023
“The way Nats fans embraced us, I couldn’t be more appreciative of that,” he said.
As he pondered retirement, and finally accepted it, Doolittle said, “... everything keeps coming back to how appreciative I am of all the opportunities I’ve had in my career.”
As for what he hopes his mark on the game will be?
“I think my mark, first of all, is outsized for my career,” he said. “I saw some people post my numbers today, and I played 11 years, that’s great, but I was hurt for like almost half of it, so thanks to the [Players’] Union for that, but I tried really hard to be a good teammate.”