Ex-Orioles pitcher Jim Hardin spent time with the team in the late ’60s and early ’70s before pitching with the Yankees and Braves and then retiring in 1972, after suffering various injuries. By 1991, he’d become a star salesman for Xerox, an avid and very good amateur golfer, and a pilot, living in Palm Beach County, Florida. He died in a plane crash in Key West that March.
On March 11, 1991, the Baltimore Sun reported that Hardin “was among three people killed when their small plane crashed nose-first into a shopping-center parking lot in Key West, Fla., police said yesterday.
Hardin was piloting the single-engine Beechcraft when it developed engine trouble in stiff cross-winds after taking off from Key West International Airport Saturday night, Key West Police dispatcher Tres Carnevale said.
Also killed were James R. Bond, 40, of Royal Palm Beach, Fla., and Dr. Mark Wein, 35, of West Palm Beach, Fla., Carnevale said. The three men were returning to West Palm Beach, where Hardin, 47, worked for Xerox.
They had been on a fishing trip in Key West, where Hardin keeps a boat, friends said. A cooler of fresh fish was found in the back of the crumpled plane.
Hardin radioed the control tower and reported engine problems just before the 7:49 p.m. crash, the National Transportation Safety Board said. The plane rose to about 500 feet but crashed within two minutes of taking off, less than two miles from the airport.”
The next day, the Miami Herald gave more details of the crash: “Investigators still don’t know what caused the plane crash that killed three Palm Beach County men in Key West Saturday, but a friend of the pilot said Jim Hardin made a valiant effort to miss a baseball park filled with youth league players.
Hardin, 47, who was a pitcher on the World Series-winning Baltimore Orioles in 1970, reported engine trouble within minutes of take-off from Key West International Airport.
The Beechcraft BE-33 four-seater crashed into an empty parking lot about a quarter mile from the ball park and a mile
from the airport about 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
James R. Bond, 40, of Royal Palm Beach, and Mark Wein, 35, of West Palm Beach, also died in the crash.
Witnesses said they heard the plane having engine trouble, and saw it trying to maneuver in strong gusting wind.
“He didn’t have a whole lot of control from what we’re hearing,” said Bill Kieldsen, a Key West charter captain who knew Hardin for 20 years. “He probably saw the baseball field and made an abrupt maneuver to keep from coming down there.”
Hardin, who had been flying his own plane from West Palm Beach to his fishing boat in Key West for the past three years, radioed the control tower that he had an emergency and was heading back to the airport, according to Phil Fuller, air control tower chief at Key West International.
Kieldsen said Hardin recently had work done on the plane’s engine.
“I know he wanted to make it back to West Palm for a golf tournament,” Kieldsen said.
The next month, the National Transportation Safety Board ended its investigation of the crash. Investigator Jeffrey Kennedy said: “We have found some problems in the propeller.” The plane’s pitch change pin had broken, making its propeller run flat and lose its bite. Kennedy said Hardin may have panicked and throttled back the engine, making it backfire and stall. Kennedy added: “That would definitely cause excessive vibrations in the engine. The vibrations would be very nerve-racking. The guy did make a radio call to Navy Key West that was very panicky.”
Hardin was a good enough golfer to rank highly in Florida tournaments. In January 1991, the Palm Beach Post reported that Bill Hadden and James Taylor had won the Florida International Fourball going away, but “the West Palm Beach team of Kevin Butler and Jim Hardin” had tied for fourth in the tournament.
The newspaper wrote: “Butler and Hardin, a former Baltimore Orioles’ pitcher and the new club champion at Mayacoo Lakes, moved into contention Saturday with a 61, the day’s low round in a scramble competition. Butler, a former Palm Beach County Amateur champion, rode Hardin’s long drives– “He hits it about like he pitched it, fast and hard.” They shot 71, one better than Jim Holtgrieve, a former U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, and Davis Sezna.”
Hardin’s family has arranged a memoriam detailing his accomplishments with the Orioles and in the rest of his big league career here.