Carroll Hardy, one of the all-time great three-sport performers at the University of Colorado who went on to have a professional career in two sports, passed away here Sunday morning from complications due to dementia. He was 87.
“I had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with Carroll several times – what a wonderful man and a true icon in the state,” CU athletic director Rick George said. “His list of accomplishments in his lifetime and the people he touched are really second-to-none. We have lost a great Buffalo.”
One of the most prolific three-sport athletes in CU history, he earned a total of 10 letters in football, baseball and track. An honorable mention football All-American in 1953 and 1954 and an all-Big Seven pick as a senior, he rushed for 1,999 career yards (third-most at the time, and still 20th all-time at Colorado), with his 6.87 per carry easily the best-ever at Colorado for any player with 60 or more carries.
He also scored 152 points, second most at the time which remains 19th best in Buff history in helping CU to a 7-2-1 record, its best in 12 seasons. The late Fred Casotti, CU’s sports information at the time, always had said he merited consideration for the Heisman Trophy in 1954, when Wisconsin’s Alan Ameche won it. Hardy outrushed Ameche by one yard that year (642-641), more than doubled his average per carry (9.2-4.4) and scored eight touchdowns to his zero.
The first time Hardy touched the ball as a collegian as a freshman in the 1951 season opener, he scored a touchdown on a 12-yard run that helped seal a 28-13 win over Colorado A&M. As a senior, he played in both the East-West Shrine Game and in the Hula Bowl, earning outstanding player honors in the latter despite lining up in the backfield across from another celebrated player in the game, Doak Walker, who had played in the ’50 game and returned to play with several pros on the Hawaiian All-Stars. Hardy led the U.S. All-Stars to a 33-13 win over the Hawaii team with 138 yards on 13 carries (and a touchdown), while punting four times for a 47-yard average.
His college coach, the late Dal Ward, put him in the same class as Byron “Whizzer” White in referring to his as one of the greatest all-around players in the game. In addition to his offensive accomplishments, he led the nation in kickoff returns with a 32.2 yard average in 1952, and was fifth in the nation in punting as senior with a 41.6 average. He also had six interceptions on defense and racked up 3,146 all-purpose yards, to this day 11th all-time at the school. His final game for the Buffaloes was perhaps his greatest, as in a 38-14 win over Kansas State, he set numerous school and conference records when he carried the ball 10 times for 238 yards and three touchdowns, with 273 all-purpose yards. CU was 26-11-3 during his football playing days.
In baseball, he was CU’s all-time career batting average leader for 200 or more bats (.392), twice batting over .400 including .447 as a senior. He had 118 hits in 301 at bats, with 15 home runs, 80 runs batted in, 107 runs scored and 45 stolen bases. His .688 slugging percentage is second all-time to teammate Frank Bernardi (.725), and he is ninth in doubles (20), third in triples (12), third in on-base percentage (.479) while ranking fifth in homers, seventh in runs batted in and eighth in runs scored. (CU eliminated the sport after the 1980 season.)
As a sprinter on the indoor track team, he once ran a 9.8 in the 100-yard dash, one of the fastest times posted for the day, and was proficient in jumps, particularly the broad jump.
“He was obviously one heckuva an athlete, and though we were always competing against each other, we became very close, not only on the field but off as well,” Bernardi said. “I valued his friendship. I wasn’t the most talkative guy and neither was Carroll, but we had good mental communication and enjoyed each other’s company through the years. We had a lot of good camaraderie and really did respect each other. I used to kid him that as the tailback, he was the ‘glory” guy but he would block for me as well. We always tried to out-do each other in baseball, which was good because it made us even more competitive. It made us perform our best.”
He was a third round selection by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1955 NFL Draft (the 33rd pick overall), and enjoyed a solid rookie season, mainly as a receiver. He was one of the favorite targets of Y.A. Tittle, catching 12 passes for 338 yards and four touchdowns, averaging a team-best 28.2 yards per reception. He actually also signed a contract with the Cleveland Indians and played on their A-league team in Reading, Pa., before reporting to camp with the 49ers.
That was his only season with the club as he served the next two years in the U.S. Army. He actually started 1956 with the Indians’ triple-A farm team in Indianapolis and was batting .365 in 21 games when the Army instructed him to report. Upon completion of his tour, he decided to pursue his professional baseball career and returned to the Cleveland Indians.
His major league career spanned 10 years (1958-67), as he played for four different teams: Cleveland, the Boston Red Sox, Houston Colt 45’s and the Minnesota Twins. He owned a career batting average of .225 (251 hits in 1,117 at bats), with 17 home runs and 113 runs batted in.
Hardy was the only man to ever pinch-hit for two legendary Red Sox, Ted Williams (the last player to hit .400) and Carl Yastrzemski. He also pinch-hit for Roger Maris when both were members of the Indians in 1958. Though those are iconic moments, he once said that his greatest moment in the sport came while a member of the Red Sox, when he hit a grand slam home run to defeat the club that traded him, Cleveland, 4-0 in 1962. He also had the distinguished honor of replacing Williams in left field in the final game of his career; Williams had homered earlier and took his position in the ninth inning. He was called back to the dugout so the fans could give him one final ovation as he passed Hardy on the way to the Red Sox dugout.
He pinch-hit for Maris in the bottom of the 11th inning against the Chicago White Sox. With two men on base, he hit a three-run home run to win the game, 7-4. It was his first major league homer.
Boston traded him to the expansion Colt 45’s in 1963, and after spending some time in the minors with their triple-A farm club at Oklahoma City, he was acquired by the Denver Bears, who were affiliated with the Minnesota Twins at the time. But while still concentrating on his baseball career (he played two-plus seasons with the Bears, batting .300 in 1965), he began scouting part-time for the American Football League’s Denver Broncos in the off-season. That eventually would lead to an overall 24 years working in different capacities for the club, including assistant ticket manager, director of scouting and director of pro personnel.
He would have one more “cup of coffee” in the majors, as after batting .298 in 80 games with the ’67 Bears, he got the September call-up to the Twins where he finished his career.
As a pro football executive, he was often credited with helping to build Denver’s famous “Orange Crush” defense that led to the team’s first AFC West Division title and Super Bowl appearance in the 1977 season. After his days with the Broncos, he also worked as a scout for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Hardy was named to CU’s All-Century Football Team in 1989 when the school celebrated its 100th year of intercollegiate athletics. He was inducted into CU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002, the Hall’s fourth class overall, as only two football players preceded him: White, the only member of the inaugural class in 1998, and William “Kayo” Lam the following year (also inducted in that class with football ties were Dick Anderson, Darian Hagan and Hale Irwin).
No CU athlete has earned close to the 10 letters in multiple sports that Hardy earned from 1951-55; the closest is Dave Logan, who earned eight from 1972-76 in football and men’s basketball. Irwin earned six between football and golf, while several have earned five.
He was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1979 (its 15th class; the fifth Buffalo football player to be enshrined and the 11th CU athlete or coach overall). In 1980, he was inducted into the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame and in 1992, he was enshrined in the South Dakota overall state’s Hall of Fame.
He was born May 18, 1933 in Sturgis, S.D. He is survived by his wife and college sweetheart of 64 years this August 15, Janice Mitchell (who was selected “Queen of the CU Relays”), son Jay and daughters Jill and Lisa. He and Jan retired to Steamboat Springs for 16 years before moving to Longmont and eventually to the Wind Crest Senior Community in Highlands Ranch.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, funeral services will be for the family only, but they hope to have a celebration of his life at a later date.
Hardy said in an article by the Denver Post last decade, ““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. But it’s not bad being remembered as the only man to ever pinch-hit for Ted Williams.”
In truth, he will be remembered for much more than that one at bat.