HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — Carroll Hardy, a multisport star best known as the only man to pinch hit for Ted Williams, died Sunday at age 87.
Hardy was also known as the football executive who helped assemble the “Orange Crush” defense in Denver during the 1970s.
The University of Colorado, where Hardy was a three-sport star, said he died of complications from dementia. He is survived by his wife and three children.
Hardy went on to play professional baseball and football after starring in track, baseball and football at Colorado from 1951 to ’55.
CU athletic director Rick George called Hardy “a true icon of the state. His list of accomplishments in his lifetime and the people he touched are really second to none. We have lost a great Buffalo.”
Hardy earned a record 10 letters in the early 1950s. An All-American honorable mention in 1953 and ’54, Hardy rushed for 1,999 career yards with a whopping 6.87 yards per carry average, which remains the best in school history among players with at least 60 carries.
Hardy led the nation in kickoff return average in 1952 and had six interceptions for the Buffaloes.
On the diamond, Hardy was CU’s all-time career batting average leader (.392), with 118 hits in 301 at-bats. He also had 15 homers, 80 RBIs, 107 runs scored and 45 stolen bases.
He once ran a 9.8 in the 100-yard dash on an indoor track.
Hardy was the 33rd overall pick in the 1955 NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He averaged 28.2 yards per catch as a rookie, with 12 receptions for 338 yards and four touchdowns.
Before reporting to the 49ers’ camp, Hardy signed with the Cleveland Indians and played on their A-league team in Reading, Pennsylvania. In 1956, he was hitting .365 in 21 games with the Indians’ Triple-A team in Indianapolis when he was ordered to report to the U.S. Army.
He returned to the Indians after his two-year tour of military duty. His major league career spanned a decade from 1958 to 1967, with stops in Cleveland, Boston, Houston and Minnesota.
Hardy was the only man to pinch hit for Red Sox icons Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.
“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 once told the Denver Post. “But it’s not bad being remembered as the only man to ever pinch hit for Ted Williams.”
Hardy’s first major league homer was a three-run shot for the Indians to beat the White Sox in the bottom of the 11th in 1958. He was sent to the plate in place of Roger Maris.
Boston traded Hardy to the expansion Colt 45s in 1963, and he later joined the Twins, who sent him to their affiliate in Denver.
During his two-plus seasons with the Denver Bears, he began scouting for the Denver Broncos part-time in the offseason.
That led to a 24-year stint with the Broncos in various roles, including assistant ticket manager, director of scouting, pro personnel director and assistant general manager.
He finished his major league career with a September call-up with the Twins in 1967, then turned his attention full-time to football.
Hardy was credited with helping build Denver’s “Orange Crush” defense that led to the Broncos’ first Super Bowl appearance in 1977. That dominant defense included Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson, Louis Wright, Lyle Alzado, Otis Armstrong and Barney Chavous.
Hardy helped assemble the Broncos’ 1986 and ’87 Super Bowl teams before his retirement.
He was born in 1933 in Sturgis, South Dakota. He is survived by his wife of nearly 64 years, Janice Mitchell, son Jay and daughters Jill and Lisa.
With the coronavirus pandemic, funeral services will be for family only, and a celebration of life will be held at a later date.