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Carroll Hardy, Athlete With a Unique Distinction, Dies at 87

Carroll Hardy, a reserve outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, was on the visitors’ bench in Baltimore late in the 1960 season when Ted Williams, the team’s megastar, fouled a pitch off his right foot during his first at-bat against the Orioles. Hobbled, he left the field.

Hardy was told by Mike Higgins, known as Pinky, the Red Sox manager, to pinch-hit for Williams. He lofted a soft line drive to the pitcher, Skinny Brown, who threw to first base for a double play.

It was an ordinary play in a forgettable season for the Red Sox, except for one detail.

No one had ever — ever — pinch-hit for Teddy Ballgame.

Eight days later, when Williams hit a long home run in the last at-bat of the final game of his career — a moment memorialized by John Updike in The New Yorker in the article “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” — Hardy showed up in another cameo: After Higgins sent Williams to left field in the top of the ninth inning to soak up the fans’ cheers, he sent Hardy out to replace him.

“They booed me all the way out,” Hardy told The Los Angeles Times in 2009, “and cheered him all the way in.”

ImageHardy reached out to shake Ted Williams’s hand after Williams hit a home run against the Cleveland Indians in August 1960. Also greeting Williams was the manager of the Red Sox, Pinky Higgins. 
Credit…via Getty Images

Those two episodes overshadowed Hardy’s more substantial achievements as an athlete and, later, a football executive.

He was a football, baseball and track star at the University of Colorado, Boulder, then played one season in the N.F.L. for the San Francisco 49ers in 1955. After finishing his baseball career in 1968, he was part of the front-office team that built the dominant Orange Crush defense that took the Denver Broncos to Super Bowl XII in 1978.

Hardy died on Sunday at a memory care center in Highlands Ranch, Colo. He was 87.

His son-in-law, Bill Bissell, said the cause was complications of dementia.

Carroll William Hardy was born on May 18, 1933, in Sturgis, S.D. His father, Walter, was a rancher, and his mother, Hazel (Veren) Hardy, was a homemaker.

A gifted athlete with a square jaw like Dick Tracy’s, Carroll rushed for 1,999 yards as a halfback for the Colorado Buffaloes; his average of 6.87 yards a carry is still a school record for players with at least 60 carries. He scored a touchdown on his first carry as a freshman in 1951 and rushed for 238 yards and three touchdowns in his final game, a 38-14 win over Kansas State in 1954.

In baseball, his .392 batting average remains Colorado’s all-time best. He also excelled at the 100-yard dash and the broad jump on the school’s indoor track team.

In 1955, he was chosen by the 49ers in the third round of the N.F.L. draft and also signed to play baseball with the Cleveland Indians. He joined the Indians’ minor league team in Reading, Pa., and left late that season for the 49ers. Playing alongside the great quarterback Y.A. Tittle, Hardy caught 12 passes for 338 yards and scored four touchdowns.

It was a tough season physically — he sustained numerous injuries — and he returned to baseball in 1956, playing in Indianapolis for another Indian minor league team. Over the next dozen years he played for four other minor league teams and a Venezuelan winter league team, and in the big leagues for the Indians, Red Sox, Houston Colt .45s (now the Astros) and Minnesota Twins.

He hit his first major league home run with Cleveland in 1958 in yet another cameo: as a pinch-hitter for Roger Maris, who three years later would hit 61 home runs for the Yankees, breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season record.

Credit…Denver Post, via Getty Images

He started working full time for the Broncos in 1969, as an associate ticket manager. He was named director of scouting the next year and later held various roles in player personnel, including assistant general manager.

He helped put together the Orange Crush defense of the late 1970s and early ’80s with players like Tom Jackson, Lyle Alzado, Randy Gradishar, Louis Wright and Barney Chavous. He also helped assemble the Bronco teams that played in Super Bowls XXI and XXII, although they lost both times.

After retiring from the Broncos in 1987, he worked for a decade at the Steamboat Resort in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in the ticket office and as a golf marshal.

He is survived by his wife, Janice (Mitchell) Hardy; his daughters, Jill Bissell and Lisa Wynn; his son, Jay; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Hardy was good-humored about being remembered mostly for his slender connection to Ted Williams.

“I’d like to have people remember me for hitting 400 home runs and a lifetime batting average of .305,” he told The Denver Post in 1993, “but I didn’t do that.”

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