MINNEAPOLIS -- Legendary Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman, whose simple prose left no doubt about his fierce loyalty to Minnesota’s teams, died Sunday, Oct. 18. He was 100.
Hartman’s son, Chad, shared the news on Twitter. “My father’s extraordinary and resilient life has come to a peaceful conclusion surrounded by his family,” Chart Hartman wrote.
Hartman’s connection with prominent sports newsmakers — or as he called them, “close personal friends” — filled his column inches with influential scoops on Minnesota sports across eight decades.
With the help of his assistant, Jeff Day, Hartman produced copy until the end, with his last column appearing in Sunday’s editions of the newspaper in his customary spot on Page 2. The Star Tribune said Sunday that since 1944 Hartman produced 21,235 bylined stories in his career, including 119 columns in 2020.
Hartman crossed into sports management as a leading advocate to help the Detroit Gems pro basketball team relocate in 1947 and become the dynastic Minneapolis Lakers into the 1950s. He later assisted on multiple civic efforts to bring Major League Baseball to Minnesota.
“I don’t know of another reporter that played such an influential role in the development of the sports landscape in any other city than what Sid did because he was the go-to guy,” said Dave Mona, Hartman’s co-host on the WCCO-AM Sports Huddle radio show since 1981.
Sid rests in the pantheon of famous, one-named Minnesotans, along the likes of Kirby and Prince.
Since his 90th birthday in 2010, a statue of Hartman holding a newspaper and microphone has sat at the high-traffic corner of Sixth Street and First Avenue North in Minneapolis, which leads to the Timberwolves’ Target Center and the Twins’ Target Field. It’s currently in storage as Target Center is being remodeled.
Among other distinctions, the new Vikings’ home U.S. Bank Stadium has the Sid Hartman media entrance, and Target Field’s press conference room is named in his honor.
Mona worked at the University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Daily student newspaper and often saw Hartman’s ubiquitous reporting style.
“He was just relentless,” said Mona, who worked at the Star Tribune for a few years before going into public relations. “He just beats people down, and he’s brazen. In this world of ‘Minnesota Nice,’ he’s the antithesis of that. Maybe in New Jersey it wouldn’t be so odd; you do it here, and people go, ‘Oh, OK.’ ”
In print, Hartman would be the last defender of a coach about to be fired, and the first person to back the new coach when he arrived.
Mona gave the example of how Hartman approached recent Gophers football coaches. “‘(Tim) Brewster is the greatest thing. It’s unfair,’ ” Mona said. “A few months later, ‘Jerry Kill? Hi, Sid Hartman.’ ”
Sid became known for the “jottings,” or news nuggets at the end of his columns. He was also very proud of his doggedness leading to scoops on business beats, for instance.
Sid was more specific in favoritism for Minnesota. He never hid his preference for Minneapolis over St. Paul, or “East Berlin,” as he would call it.
“He still thinks that the Wild made a terrible mistake coming over here (to Xcel Energy Center), and somebody will pay for the (United) soccer (stadium) decision,” Mona said. “That’s vintage Sid. .. He is a winner-takes-all kind of guy.”
Hartman’s newspaper career began at age 9 as a paperboy in 1929. He was competitive in finding the best corners to sell the Minneapolis Tribune, Journal and Star for two cents apiece, according to his autobiography “Sid! The Sports Legends, the Inside Scoops, and the Close Personal Friends.”
In junior high school in North Minneapolis, Hartman started his journalism career, writing for the Lincoln Life school paper.
“My use of the king’s English wasn’t the greatest, and still isn’t, but I enjoyed laying out the paper and writing notes,” Hartman wrote.
Hartman was the oldest of four children of Jack Hechtman, who changed his name to Hartman when he emigrated from Russia at age 16. His mother, Celia, came from Latvia when she was 9. Hartman said his father, who worked as a transfer man moving heavy loads, struggled with drinking, which forced Hartman’s into the paperboy job to help provide for his family.
Hartman commended his father’s work ethic, intelligence and fierce competitiveness.
“I think that’s one thing that I picked up from my old man — that competitiveness,” Hartman wrote in “Sid!” “I had nothing going for me as a kid. I’ve always fought, always have been relentless, in trying to get the story first.”
Hartman dropped out of Minneapolis North High School in his junior year. He worked in newspaper circulation with the Minneapolis Tribune until he lost the job due to a merger in 1941. “I started selling vacuum cleaners and had a chance to be the world’s worst vacuum cleaner salesman,” he wrote.
Hartman was soon hired by the Minneapolis Times circulation manager and then interned on the sports desk, working on layout of the paper.
In 1946, Hartman began writing a column called “Hartman’s Roundup,” a collection of notes sans opinion, until the Times folded in 1948. Hartman soon moved over to the Tribune and was assigned to cover the Gophers and write a column.
In “Sid!” Hartman shared how he was instrumental in bringing the pro basketball to Minneapolis. He said he called the owner of the Detroit Gems of the National Basketball League and had local businessman Carl Chaflen pay $15,000 for the franchise. The Minneapolis Lakers then joined the NBL for the 1947-48 season.
Hartman said he acted as general manager, and signing big man Jim Pollard of Stanford was a startling accomplishment.
“I was a twenty-seven-year-old kid, representing a new team and attending one of my first league meetings,” Hartman wrote. “I raised my hand in the middle of the conversation and said, ‘Commissioner, I would like to announce that the Minneapolis Lakers have signed Jim Pollard.’
“You could have heard a pin drop.”
Then a month before the season, team owners hired Max Winter as the Lakers’ general manager because Hartman wasn’t going to commit to work for the Lakers full-time, according to “Sid!”
But Hartman’s greatest coup came in getting game-changing center George Mikan to sign with the Lakers in 1947. Winter and Hartman were having trouble getting Miken to sign a deal. They assumed if Miken got on a flight out of town that he was gone for good.
“So, I drove north toward Anoka, rather than south toward the airport,” Sid wrote. “After Mikan missed his flight, we put him in a downtown hotel, then brought him to the Lakers office … in the morning and agreed to give him the $12,000.”
Hartman left the Lakers’ front office in 1957 and the team moved to Los Angeles after the 1960 season.
Conflict of interest?
“People ask, ‘How could a newspaperman serve as the behind-the-scenes manager of the Lakers? Wasn’t that unethical?’ ” Hartman wrote in “Sid!” “It would have been unethical in the sixties or later, when conflicts like that started to become a big issue. In the fifties, newspaper people were involved with every sports team and every sports promotion in town.”
In the mid-1950s, Hartman detailed the Star and Tribune’s publisher’s efforts to bring a pro baseball team to the Twin Cities. They failed to net the New York Giants, who went to San Francisco instead, and the Cleveland Indians in 1957.
Hartman wrote that publisher John Cowles Sr., decided to devote the Tribune’s Sunday magazine to I.A. Shaughnessy, a part-owner of the Indians from St. Paul, to help coax the move. But the move was held up due to a lease the Indians were tied to in Cleveland, Hartman wrote.
In 1960, Washington Senators owner Calvin Griffith announced his team would move to Minnesota and become the Twins in 1961.
“For Minnesota to get a major league team after all the work we did — it was the greatest feeling in the world,” Hartman wrote. “The other sports were nothing compared to baseball at that time. Baseball was what made you big league. And the Star and Tribune had done more in getting the Twins here than any outfit in town.”
Hartman didn’t hide his hometown bias.
“I’ve always rooted for the Minnesota teams to win, for two reasons: First, it makes my job easier; and second, I get to know the team officials, managers, coaches, and players, and wind up with a lot of friends.”
Hartman’s bias sometimes crossed the line. He counts former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant as one of his best friends and admits he tried to pull strings for Grant when he was on the Gophers basketball team. Hartman said after the 1949 football season, Grant couldn’t play basketball.
“He was failing a class taught by a Jewish professor,” Hartman wrote. “I contacted the guy and asked for a favor, one Jewish guy to another, but it didn’t work. Bud was ineligible. So, on Christmas Day, we announced that Bud had signed with the Lakers. He was in uniform that same night.”
Another story Hartman told in “Sid!” is how he lied to protect Dave Winfield from being suspended from the Gophers basketball team in 1972. Winfield, who would make the Baseball Hall of Fame, was involved in a brawl with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
According to Hartman, a Big Ten official called him to check on Winfield’s involvement. “I lied,” Hartman wrote. “I said, ‘I didn’t see Winfield hit anyone.’ They did not have videotape and replay to check. So, Winfield escaped.”
“Newspaper editors tell you that reporters are supposed to be objective.” Hartman said. “I was never objective. I was at my worst with Grant’s (Vikings) teams in the seventies. I made an ass out of myself, cheering for the Vikings and bitching about the officials, almost every Sunday in the press box. I never knew how bad it looked. I didn’t care. It was more important to me to see Bud and the Vikings do well than how other sportswriters felt about me.”
Hartman would become revered by many Minnesota sports fans. He didn’t understood why fans would want to take selfies with him at Timberwolves games. But when Kevin Garnett shook his hand before a game in the 2015-16 season, Hartman was startled because of Garnett’s bristly relationship with the media.
But Hartman was always granted a wide berth. At the introductory news conference for Karl-Anthony Towns, the late Timberwolves leader Flip Saunders stopped Hartman in midsentence when Towns couldn’t understand Hartman’s question. Saunders was making sure Towns knew Hartman’s legacy in Minnesota.