RIP to Carroll Hardy, a multi-sport star at the University of Colorado who went on to play in two professional sports leagues. He died on August 9 in Highlands Ranch, Colo., from complications of dementia. He was 87 years old. Hardy played for the Cleveland Indians (1958-60), Boston Red Sox (1960-62), Houston Colt .45s (1963-64) and Minnesota Twins (1967). He also played in the National Football League for the San Francisco 49ers (1955).
Hardy was an executive for the Denver Broncos and helped assemble the team’s feared “Orange Crush” defense, which included Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson, Louis Wright, Lyle Alzado and Barney Chavous. “Behind the team’s defense, the Broncos won their first division title and advanced to their first ever Super Bowl in 1977. Allowing 20 points just once in the 1977 regular season, the Broncos earned a 12-2 record and a trip to Super Bowl XII,” the team said in a statement.
Hardy also is a historical footnote in baseball history, appearing as, of all things, a pinch-hitter. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Carroll William Hardy was born in Sturgis, S.D., on May 18, 1933. He showed off his versatility playing on pretty much any team that the Sturgis High School had. He was a starter on the basketball team and played multiple positions on the football team from receiver to halfback to punter. He was a talented pitcher, and he placed first in the 1950 state track meet in shot putt and broad jump and second in the 100-yard and 220-yard dashes. He also defeated his high school golf coach at a country club championship.
Hardy then attended the University of Colorado and, as a freshman, was compared favorably to Byron “Whizzer” White, the school’s previous multi-sport hero. He earned a total of 10 letters at Colorado for football, baseball and track. His name is still found all over the Buffalo athletics record book. He rushed for a total of 1,999 career yards (20th all-time) and had an average of 6.87 yards per carry (1st all-time). He scored 152 points (19th all-time) and had 3,146 all-purpose yards (11th all-time). He was among the best collegiate players at the time as a kick returner and punter, and he also had 6 interceptions on defense.
Colorado discontinued its baseball program after the 1980 season, and Hardy is the school’s all-time batting leader for 200+ at-bats, with a .392 mark. He hit over .400 twice and is in the school’s top 10 in virtually every offensive category.
Given his athletic skills, Hardy was in high demand in multiple sports. He was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round of the 1955 draft in late January. About six months later, the Cleveland Indians signed him as an outfielder. The 49ers coach, Red Strader, and Indians general manager Hank Greenberg were of the opinion that the talented athlete could try his luck at both sports. Hardy batted .265 for the Reading Indians of the Eastern League in 53 games with 5 home runs before he had to depart to the 49rs training camp.
Hardy spent one season in the NFL, and it was a pretty good one for a rookie. Used mostly as a receiver, he caught 12 receptions in 10 games for 338 yards and 4 touchdowns. One of those was a 78-yard bomb from quarterback Y.A. Tittle, which accounted for San Francisco’s longest scoring play of the season. Hardy also made a few kick returns and had a total of 440 all-purpose yards.
After a good showing in football, Cleveland was suddenly concerned about his two-sport status. Jojo White, his manager in Reading, said, “Carroll Hardy… should be playing major league baseball in a year or two — if football injuries don’t get him.” Greenberg gave the youngster an ultimatum that he’d be done with Cleveland if he went back to the 49ers. Hardy got off to a hot start for the AAA Indianapolis Indians in 1956, hitting .385 in 21 games, before he was called off to military service. When he returned to professional sports in 1958, he was a full-time baseball player.
Hardy joined Cleveland in spring training in 1958 and made the team, despite his relative inexperience in pro baseball and his time away in the Army. He made his major-league debut as a pinch-hitter on April 15 and drew a walk off Kansas City pitcher Ned Garver. Hardy was sent back to the minors in July with a .204 average in 27 games, but he had a memorable moment with his first MLB home run. It came in the 11th inning against the White Sox on May 18. The Sox scored early but were then shut down by reliever Don Mossi, who threw 7 innings of 1-run ball as the Indians battled back to send the game into extra innings. Hardy was sent to pinch-hit for Roger Maris in the 11th inning and clubbed a 3-run homer to left field off Billy Pierce that stayed just fair. Mossi and the Tribe got the 7-4 win as part of a doubleheader sweep. Hardy was promised more playing time after his late-inning heroics, but an attack of appendicitis sidelined him at the worst possible time.
Hardy was a talented athlete, but Cleveland never kept him in the lineup long enough to see if his skills carried over to the major leagues. He split 1959 in between the majors and AAA Seattle and hit .208 for the big-league club. He hardly played in 1960, managing 2 hits in 18 at-bats over the span of 29 games. He was traded to Boston along with catcher Russ Nixon on June 13, in exchange for pitcher Ted Bowsfield and outfielder Marty Keough.
“I’m sure I can hit that baseball, but I never had a chance — or much of one,” he said of his time in Cleveland. “I don’t think I ever got to play more than two games in a row with Cleveland.”
Hardy did get his chance to play in Boston over the rest of the season, batting .234 with a couple of home runs in 73 games. He won a game on September 3 by drawing a bases-loaded walk against the Senators. He also had the most famous at-bat of his career.
On September 20, 1960, against the Orioles, slugger Ted Williams fouled a ball off his foot in the first inning. He was unable to continue and had to be replaced by Hardy. It was the one and only time in Williams’ 19-year career that someone had to pinch-hit for him. Hardy proceeded to pop into a double play. Williams had just five more games left in his MLB career and hit .375 with a home run in those games, so the injury didn’t slow him down much.
Hardy had the best season of his career in 1961 when he played in 85 games and slashed .263/.330/.381, with 20 doubles, 3 homers and 36 RBIs. One of those homers was a grand slam against the Los Angeles Angels in late August. He was given a start in right field that day because starter Jackie Jensen hated to fly and refused to go on the team’s trip to the West Coast. Hardy said he learned to relax at the plate and not be afraid to strike out, and that improved mindset led to an improved performance.
Hardy played in a career-high 115 games in 1962, but he was unable to match the success of his previous season. He batted .215, but he did at least get some revenge on his old Cleveland team on April 11. He belted a 12th-inning grand slam homer to give the Red Sox a 4-0 win over the Indians. The hit came after Carl Yastrzemski tripled to lead off the inning, and Cleveland intentionally walked the next two hitters to bring up Hardy.
Boston traded Hardy to Houston in December 1962 for infielder Dick Williams. Houston mostly kept the 30-year-old Carroll in the minor leagues. In two seasons as a Colt .45, He played a total of 61 games in the majors and hit .194. But he was a pretty amazing player for the AAA Oklahoma City 89ers.
“I had a good year, but it was in the wrong league,” Hardy noted after the 1963 season was over. He appeared in just 15 games for Houston that season but hit .316 with 16 home runs and 61 RBIs.
Incidentally, how many athletes can lay claim to being part of the 49ers and the 89ers — AND the Colt .45s? Too bad he never played in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers.
In 1965, The Minnesota Twins acquired Hardy in a minor-league trade, and he spent a couple of seasons abusing Pacific Coast League pitchers with the Denver Bears. He was playing to try and get 41 more days in the major leagues so that he could qualify for a pension. “I’m in the twilight of a mediocre career,” he said. Hardy made a final appearance in the majors with the Twins in 1967. He came up in September and appeared in 11 games as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement, as a veteran piece to help push the team into first place. The Twins finished a game behind the Red Sox, but Hardy had 3 hits, including a pinch-hit homer, in 8 at-bats for a .375 average.
In 8 seasons, Hardy slashed .225/.302/.330, with 251 hits and 113 RBIs. He had 47 doubles, 10 triples and 17 home runs. He also scored 172 runs. As an outfielder, he played 168 games in center field, 111 in right field and 86 in left field. He was pretty good defensively in all three spots. I believe he fell about two weeks short of qualifying for that MLB pension he sought.
Even before he wrapped up his baseball career, Hardy was working in professional football. He started in public relations/scouting for Empire Sports, the owners of the Denver Broncos, then of the American Football League. He would go on to have more than two decades with the Broncos organization in a variety of roles. He was a coordinator of college scouting, scouting director, director of player personnel and assistant general manager.
Hardy, for his collegiate and football careers, has been named to a number of Halls of Fame in Colorado and South Dakota. While Cooperstown may be out of his reach, he has achieved the sort of baseball immortality that comes with being the answer to a trivia question.
“I’d like to have people remember me for hitting 400 home runs and a lifetime batting average of .305, but I didn’t do that,” Hardy said in the Denver Post. “But it’s not bad being remembered as the only man to ever pinch-hit for Ted Williams.”