Andrew Stetka: Hardy left an impression on Orioles

In my consumption of Orioles news and commentary over the last week, I heard something that caught me off-guard. The Orioles Hall of Fame conversation came up and it surrounded shortstop J.J. Hardy. My immediate reaction was puzzled. Why would Hardy be a shoe-in for the team’s Hall of Fame? He’s never even been the best player on his own team, let alone a standout during his tenure in Baltimore. After a moment of thinking about it, I realized that none of that mattered. That’s not what the Orioles Hall of Fame is about. Instead, it’s about honoring those players and even staff who have made a significant contribution to the organization. Hardy has certainly done that.

In what’s become a lost season from a win-loss standpoint, Orioles fans were treated to something special in yesterday’s home finale. Even though the O’s won’t be heading to the postseason in 2017, they will remember what was likely Hardy’s final home game in a Baltimore uniform. The 35-year-old slugged a home run as part of a two-hit game. It was just Hardy’s fourth homer of an injury-plagued season, but it was special. It provided him a moment for a curtain call, which came even after a standing ovation prior to his first at-bat. Fans are aware of the reality that yesterday brought. With a buyout of $2 million coming up this offseason, Hardy is likely to depart the organization after seven seasons.

Hardy’s impact on the Orioles definitely goes beyond his contributions on the field, which are also notable. He was one of those clubhouse guys that many tend to dismiss. He’s influenced the way that players like Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop play the game. He’s been a leader in the clubhouse in a similar yet different mold as Adam Jones. The center fielder is much more of a vocal leader, while Hardy has been a steady voice and veteran presence in the clubhouse. Hardy’s been around for ups and downs during his tenure, and has been a constant force on playoff teams. He’s never been an offensive standout, but provided just what the O’s needed with the bat. He’s also been as steady of a glove as possible at shortstop, a position that has traditionally had great defense in Baltimore.

In a season that doesn’t have the playoffs in its future, we tend to look to these things at the end of a campaign. We look to players who may be making their final appearances with the team. Chris Tillman is another that very well could have made his last home start with the Birds yesterday. But there’s a reason Hardy was met with applause and admiration not only from the fans, but from his teammates yesterday. There’s a reason he appeared emotional as he stepped up to the plate. It’s because he’s meant so much to a franchise that has experienced success during his tenure.

The next step for Hardy is the one I’m most interested in. I’d be curious to see if he’s able to get a contract going into next season. He still feels like he can play at a high level, but no one really knows if there is another team that feels that way. There’s also been a lot of speculation that Hardy could one day end up in a dugout as a coach or even manager. That’s something I’m definitely interested in seeing develop. If it happens with the Orioles organization, all the better.

The Orioles quite obviously addressed Hardy’s imminent departure with the acquisition of Tim Beckham in July. The writing has been on the wall for a while now. I don’t know what the next step for Hardy will be, but whatever it is, he’ll always be beloved in Baltimore. From public address announcer Ryan Wagner’s call of his name to the numerous clutch hits and slick glovework, Hardy has left an impression on the city and on the franchise. He will be missed.

Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AStetka. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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