The first time I became aware of Sean Doolittle’s sense of activism was when he played for the Oakland A’s in 2015 and his team announced they would be adding a Pride Night to their promotional calendar. They were immediately hit by a backlash of anti-gay vitriol from fans and numerous season ticket holders threatened to dump their tickets for that game.
To which Doolittle and his wife, Eireann Dolan, hatched a plan: OK, sell them to us and we’ll donate them to the Bay Area Youth Center to pack the stands with young LGBTQ fans.
During the previous season, Doolittle had just elevated his platform with his first All-Star campaign and 22 saves for the playoff-bound A’s. In that moment, he and Dolan utilized their newfound status to make an unmistakable statement that as long as they had influence, they would use it to ensure that their team would welcome LGBTQ fans with open arms and ensure that they felt uplifted and safe.
It was the first instance of what would become one of the most important aspects of Doolittle’s career: unequivocal, fearless, and passionate allyship. It’s also what we will remember most now that the two-time All-Star and World Series Champion has announced he will retire from baseball.
In an era where many athletes fell back on noncontroversial PR-laden talking points about making room for all points of view in an attempt not to offend anyone, Doolittle was an exemplary exception. Once he stepped into the spotlight, he was unafraid to raise his voice and let LGBTQ fans know they could count on him to advocate for our community at every opportunity.
From speaking out against homophobic slurs by fellow players on Twitter to declining an invitation to the Trump White House after his World Series win to standing up for the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Doolittle proved to be the Cal Ripken of being on the right side of every LGBTQ story in baseball.
While employed in a traditionally conservative sport, that took incredible amounts of courage and empathy. Fortunately, those were qualities that defined who Doolittle was both on and off the field.
The same fortitude that enabled him to put up a 0.00 ERA and record a save in the 2019 World Series served him well every time he was asked to speak out on issues that affected our community.
Amidst all the celebration of his bravery and allyship, we also shouldn’t lose sight of another important aspect of his career and one that made him such an effective advocate: Doolittle was one of the most fun players in baseball.
This was the man who brought a lightsaber into Nationals locker room celebrations and the major league relief pitcher who started a Twitter thread celebrating his favorite independent bookstores in every major league city. He fully embraced an image never before seen in baseball: the nerdcore closer.
That sense of fun also carried over into Doolittle’s work with the LGBTQ community when he unveiled a custom tie-dyed rainbow glove during the 2020 pandemic shutdown. To the best of my knowledge, he never had the chance to wear the glove on the field because doing so would have been joyful and MLB was ruled by Rob Manfred. It was baseball’s loss.
Oftentimes, the baseball establishment promotes players as marketable personalities because they possess characteristics like “having a beard.” Doolittle was a true iconoclast. He had one of the coolest jobs on the planet but so much of what made him an interesting person was thanks to everything he did outside of the game.
That sense of him being such a fascinating public figure also helped make him an effective ally. People in baseball and the media went to Doolittle over and over again for a quote because he was so interesting. And every time he had the opportunity to use that attention to advance our community’s interests, he took full advantage of it.
Even during his last week as a Major League ballplayer, Doolittle took time to help LGBTQ charities. As part of his retirement celebration, the Nationals announced that they would match donations up to $6,300 to SMYAL, a DC-area LGBTQ youth empowerment organization supported by Doolittle and Dolan.
Closers aren’t usually supposed to hit walk-offs but Doolittle nailed it.