With a single trip to the plate, Carroll Hardy became the answer to an enduring baseball trivia question: Who was the only Major League player to pinch hit for legendary Red Sox slugger Ted Williams?
His professional sports accomplishments, however, scored more trivia points — and that’s not counting his impressive college statistics.
He was the only professional athlete to catch four touchdown passes from NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle, pinch hit for Carl Yastrzemski and Roger Maris, and then, as a pro football executive, help create the Denver Broncos’ Orange Crush defense in the 1970s.
And, yes, he also was the only player to sub at the plate for the Splendid Splinter — on Sept. 20, 1960, just eight days before Ted Williams hit a home run in his last Fenway at-bat in his final game, a moment novelist John Updike immortalized in his New Yorker magazine essay “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.”
Mr. Hardy, who was 87 when he died in Colorado Sunday, had a cameo in Updike’s lasting piece of sports journalism, too.
It would have been poetic, then, if the play for which Mr. Hardy is best remembered was, like Williams’s final home run, a stirring moment — his swing smooth, the crack of the bat echoing, the ball arcing out of the park.
The 1960 game against the Baltimore Orioles didn’t work out that way, but the slice of history made for a good yarn in the hands of as adept a storyteller as Mr. Hardy.
“Skinny Brown was pitching this particular day. He threw knuckleballs. He could make ‘em dance,” Mr. Hardy told the Globe’s Stan Grossfeld in 2009.
“Ted fouled the first pitch off his instep. It hurt him so badly he just limped off the field. He didn’t even stop in the dugout. He just headed straight for the clubhouse. Oh, he was really hurting. He had a foul mouth, no question about it,” Mr. Hardy said, laughing at the memory as he reminisced in his Colorado home.
“The manager, Pinky Higgins, said, ‘Hardy, get a bat, you’re the hitter.’ I didn’t have any forewarning or nothing. So I grabbed a bat, hit into a double play, and no one thought anything about it.”
The historic moment took a backseat to the game itself.
“I knew I pinch hit for him, but I didn’t know it was a big deal,” Mr. Hardy said. “It was just another at-bat. I never thought about it, nobody did.”
How was it recorded in the first draft of history? The Globe ran a six-paragraph brief noting that Mr. Hardy had been the first player to pinch hit for Williams.
The headline: “Ankle Injured, Williams ‘Lifted’ for Pinch Hitter.”
Born in Sturgis, S.D., on May 18, 1933, Carroll William Hardy was a son of Walter Hardy, a rancher, and Hazel Veren, a homemaker.
Following in the footsteps of his older brother, Dale, who became a college coach and athletic director, Mr. Hardy was a standout athlete as a youth and played American Legion baseball while in high school.
Turning down a tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals, he opted instead to go to the University of Colorado at Boulder, which his brother had attended. Mr. Hardy lettered multiple times in football, track, and baseball. He hit .392 through his college years, a school record that still stands.
Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Indians, Mr. Hardy was taking final exams when a professor handed him a message.
“They said, ‘You’re wanted on the telephone right now. The 49ers are waiting to find out if you’re going to play football or baseball,’ " Mr. Hardy recalled in 2009.
He did both, playing pro football and minor league baseball after college. In San Francisco, the quarterback was Tittle, who also played for the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants in his Hall of Fame career.
After taking a break from playing professionally when he was drafted to serve in the Army, Mr. Hardy focused on baseball and playing for Cleveland.
“I always wanted to play baseball,” he told the Globe in 1986. “Even when I was doing so well in football I never thought of it as a career.”
In the 1958 season, he hit his first Major League home run while pinch hitting for Maris, who also was from South Dakota. Three years later, Maris was playing for the New York Yankees when he broke Babe Ruth’s single-season record by hitting 61 home runs.
By then, Mr. Hardy was with the Red Sox. The Globe reported that in 1961, he notched another trivia moment as the first player to pinch hit for Yastrzemski — though not, as was the case with Williams, because of an injury.
“Yaz was a rookie, and early on he had trouble with lefties,” Mr. Hardy recalled in the 2009 Globe interview. “But he figured it out.”
Over the course of Mr. Hardy’s career, he hit .225 with 17 home runs while also playing for the Minnesota Twins, and for Houston, before the team’s name changed from the Colt 45s to the Astros.
He began scouting for the Denver Broncos as his Major League career was drawing to a close.
“I’d approached them about an off-season job because I was no Major League star,” he said in a 1987 Globe interview. “I needed a job and they hired me as a part-time scout.”
Mr. Hardy worked in different personnel jobs for Denver, where he was among those who assembled the players who became known as the Orange Crush defense.
Ultimately, though, he knew he would be best-remembered for his plate appearances subbing for Maris, Yastrzemski, and especially for Williams.
“I guess my claim to fame is my pinch hitting,” he told the Globe in 1986.
According to his Society for American Baseball Research biography, Mr. Hardy married Janice Mitchell in 1956.
In addition to his wife, his survivors include two daughters, Jill and Lisa; and a son, Jay.
Mr. Hardy told the Globe that after Williams died in 2002, people began “sending me a lot of balls, asking me to sign ‘em, ‘Carroll Hardy — the only man ever to pinch hit for Ted Williams, Sept. 20, 1960,’ and I do it for them.”
During the Old-Timers Game in 1986, Mr. Hardy had teased Williams about that pinch-hitting moment.
“He took it in good spirits,” Mr. Hardy recalled, and he was just as congenial about his own fame being forever linked to Williams.
“I wouldn’t be anybody without Ted,” he said.
Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.