The Orioles were an active team in the offseason following the 2010 season, acquiring Mark Reynolds, Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, and Kevin Gregg. But one move Andy MacPhail made that winter paid dividends for years to come. In December, he traded Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson to the Twins for shortstop J.J. Hardy. Hoey and Jacobson appeared in a combined 26 major league games after that. Meanwhile in Baltimore, Hardy was a key member of three playoff teams, made an All-Star team, and filled his trophy shelf with Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards.
James Jerry Hardy was selected by Milwaukee in the second round of the 2001 draft. He debuted in 2005 and made the All-Star team in 2007, establishing himself as a solid defender that provided some pop at the plate. After a disappointing 2009 season, the Brewers traded him to the Twins. Despite Hardy playing in only 101 games in 2010 and entering the last year of his contract, MacPhail wanted him to be a part of his remade 2011 Baltimore infield.
Hardy immediately made an impact, posting the best offensive season of his career for a noncompetitive 2011 club. He slashed .269/.310/.491 with 30 home runs and 80 RBI. The Orioles rewarded Hardy with a three year, $22.5M contract extension in July of that season. He took a chance by signing with a team that was on its way to a 14th consecutive losing season but was rewarded quickly.
Buck Showalter penciled Hardy’s name in near the top of the lineup throughout the 2012 season when the Orioles broke their postseason drought. His slash line dropped across the board, but he swatted 22 home runs and scored 85 runs that season. Hardy was a catalyst In the Wild Card Game against the Rangers, collecting two hits, an RBI, and a run scored.
He collected a Silver Slugger Award in 2013, slashing .263/.306/.433 with 25 home runs and 76 home runs. The pop disappeared from his swing for good in 2014; he hit nine home runs and would never again reach double digits. He also dealt with some minor injuries that season, playing in 141 games. Perhaps those should have been red flags for Dan Duquette as he was thinking about Hardy’s future in Baltimore. But before the start of the 2014 ALCS, the Orioles announced they had signed Hardy to a three-year, $40M extension. The fan base was thrilled that the club was locking up a key part of their team’s core.
We of course have the benefit of hindsight now. But maybe the red flags of decreased power and increased injuries should have influenced the Orioles’ willingness to sign Hardy to an extension. Throughout the life of that contract, Hardy played in a total of 302 games and never surpassing 115 in one season. He hit 21 home runs over those three seasons. Hardy’s subpar on-base percentage (.305 over his career) was tolerable when he was hitting over 20 home runs. But his slash line of .237/.275/.350 over his last three seasons is not pretty.
But the offense Hardy provided even during his best years was a bonus considering the rock-solid defense he played at shortstop. Nobody who watched Hardy play would say that he was the most athletic, had the best range, or possessed the strongest throwing arm. But he simply made all the plays. He was the player you wanted the ball hit to in a big situation. He was rewarded with three consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 2012-2014.
But Hardy did more than just pass the eye test with the glove. His career defensive WAR of 17.5 ranks 75th all time among all position players and his career fielding percentage of .983 ranks sixth all time among shortstops. During the years Hardy spent in Baltimore, he led all shortstops in Fangraphs’ error runs and was second in Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Above Average. He also had lightning quick hands and exquisite footwork when turning double plays. Defense was one of the Orioles’ strengths during their most recent successful seasons, and Hardy was a keystone of that unit.
In addition to his on-field skills, Hardy was an important part of the Orioles’ clubhouse during those playoff seasons. While never outspoken to the media like teammate Adam Jones, he quietly set a great example for players to follow. When he attended spring training as a guest instructor this season, his former teammates spoke glowingly about him as a leader. He served as a mentor for fellow infielders Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop when they broke into the big leagues. His relationship with Machado was especially interesting; Hardy could have felt threatened by the hotshot shortstop prospect. Instead, he went above and beyond in taking Machado under his wing.
One of the best moments of a disappointing 2017 campaign was Orioles fans teammates having the opportunity to salute Hardy during his final game at Camden Yards. The opposing dugout taking part in the ovation showed how much respect Hardy had gained from the entire league.
J.J. Hardy receives a standing ovation from his teammates and fans in what may be his last home game in a Baltimore Orioles uniform. #IBackTheBirdsPosted by MASN Orioles on Sunday, September 24, 2017
As expected, the Orioles moved on from Hardy following the 2017 season and handed the shortstop position over to Machado. He has not played professionally since. Hardy told Dan Connolly last summer that while he doesn’t want to say that he’s retired, he knows he likely is.
All told, Hardy played an important offensive, defensive, and leadership role for the Orioles during a successful era. The 15.7 WAR he accumulated over seven seasons in Baltimore ranks 30th in Orioles history among position players. He slashed .252/.293/.408 with 107 home runs, 385 RBI, and 395 runs scored. His 10.9 defensive WAR as an Oriole ranks him 7th in club history.
In addition to those impressive numbers, he is the source of some great memories. Fans chanting his name along with public address announcer Ryan Wagner before each at bat, homering against Jon Lester in “Game 162” in 2011, and scoring the go-ahead run in Game 2 of the 2014 ALDS come to mind. He will be remembered fondly by Orioles fans and deserves his place among the franchise’s top players of all time.