Ian Desmond was never one to do things in a big, splashy way, so it wouldn’t have been hard to overlook the announcement of the former Washington Nationals shortstop’s retirement hidden 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 began in 2009 at the Nationals and ran through 2019 in Colorado.
Desmond, who is still signed with the Rockies, pulled out of the 2020 and 2021 seasons before the Rockies declined his $15 million team option for 2022.
Throughout his career, Desmond has been passionate about the communities in which he has lived and played, and his top priorities remain his family and the community of Sarasota, Florida.
Multiple Roberto Clemente Award nominees while at the Nationals and Rockies, Desmond has been involved everywhere he has played.
A story from the Nationals’ Youth Baseball Academy, which Desmond co-founded in 2014, was prominent in a July 2020 Instagram post addressing tensions in America following the killing of George Floyd by a police officer and amid the COVID pandemic.
Desmond shared the pain he felt growing up playing baseball as a multiracial man, calling out a culture of racism, sexism, and homophobia in the game, and a lack of interest in making the game accessible and fun for children.
By retiring from the last two seasons, Desmond has walked away from a salary of more than $23 million and founded the nonprofit Newtown Connection, which supports youth baseball in Sarasota County and uses the sport to promote healthy living, leadership and inclusion to teach.
That work continues for Desmond as he completes a career in which his humble nature often belied 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. However, Nationals fans should remember him as a cornerstone of the team as it made the transition from doormat to annual contender during his 2009-2015 tenure.
Desmond matured with the Nationals organization and helped establish the veteran foundation of a team that finally broke a 95-year championship drought in 2019.
But Desmond was never properly appreciated by many Nats fans, who criticized his defense and showed little patience for a slight drop in his scoring that coincided with the disastrous 2015 season.
A first-round draft pick at the Montreal Expos in 2004, the season before she moved to Washington, Desmond spent the first ten seasons of his career organizing the Nationals, making his major league debut on September 10, 2009 as a Nats ended their second straight season with over 100 losses.
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 ranked fifth in the rankings, averaging .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.
This began a three-year run of Silver Slugger Awards and a four-year run in which Desmond averaged 22 home runs and 77 RBIs. When the Nationals won another division title in 2014, he built his reputation as a clutch hitter. He had a career-high 34 penalties in his first season as a starter in 2010, after which he has averaged 22 per season as a Nats shortstop.
But as the Nats struggled and manager Matt Williams lost the clubhouse in 2015, Desmond’s detractors still panned his defense, focusing on a batting average that fell from .280 to .233 in two seasons and a high strikeout rate, nearly four times that often Desmond left.
Teammates, coaches, and opponents all praised Desmond’s professionalism, attitude, and value as a teammate.
Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell responded to a number of criticisms by citing Desmond’s intelligence, leadership, speed, power, range, durability and superior metrics to other shortstops.
After a team with postseason ambitions struggled to finish a few games above .500, the Nats didn’t make a qualifying offer to Desmond and moved on with Danny Espinosa at shortstop.
Desmond completed an all-star season as a fielder with the Texas Rangers before signing with the Rockies in 2017.
While the Nats grew in 2019 and eventually clinched a World Series title, it was veterans like Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth who set the tone and expectations during the team’s division championship season, bringing in Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and others future stars.
Though he may not have a ring, Desmond was an integral part of the organization of the Nationals as it grew and neared the 2019 World Series title.