The weekly search for a page 2 contribution to the Sunday sports section led me to editions of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune and the afternoon Star for September 1968. The reason was to find information on O.J. Simpson’s appearance with Southern Cal against the Gophers to open that football season.
While looking at those pages, I discovered an amazing yarn about our legend of the sports media, Sid Hartman. It was written by Paul Foss, a civilian who was given space in the Monday Tribune for a time, with a column titled “Monday Morning Quarterback.’’
Foss actually referred to himself with the third person alias of MMQ. That’s almost as hokey as those days gone-by when I did an annual golf tour as The Confirmed Hacker.
This MMQ column by the MMQ appeared on Sept. 23, 1968, a couple of days after Joe Cronin, the American League president, announced he was firing umpires Bill Valentine and Al Salerno and replacing them immediately with minor-league call-ups.
This was in the days when the leagues ran with a large degree of autonomy and they had separate umpiring staffs.
Valentine and Salerno claimed that they were fired for talking to their fellow American League umpires about joining a union. The National League umpires had organized in 1963. Valentine and Salerno had talked with some NL umpires, and were told they would take the AL umpires into the union, as long as all 20 agreed.
Cronin fired Valentine and Salerno only a few days after the meeting with the NL umpires had taken place. Cronin claimed it was due to their not being good umpires, although Salerno and Valentine had been working in the AL and getting raises for six years-plus.
Even without Valentine and Salerno, the AL umpires joined the NL to form the Major League Umpires Association after the 1968 season. There were lawsuits and settlement offers with Valentine and Salerno through the years. Valentine took a settlement; Salerno did not.
Yet, on Sept. 23, 1968, the Tribune’s MMQ was clearly in the corner of Joe Cronin. This was the picture that Paul Foss painted:
“Valentine’s firing brings to mind an incident this MMQ witnessed this summer between games of a doubleheader at Metropolitan Stadium. Stopping off in the umpires’ room between games, Sid Hartman and this MMQ were backed into the aisle by a highly irate and seemingly berserk Valentine immediately after we entered the room.
“He grabbed me out in the hall and shouted he ‘didn’t mean me [but] that other blankety-blank behind you.’ With that he slammed the door in Sid’s face. A few minutes later, the door opened again with Sid coming in.
“He got in, but only two feet inside. Then he attempted to talk to Al Salerno, holding the door open, when Valentine catapulted across the room, hitting Sid with a football block which sent him reeling out into the corridor again. The umpire, in the wildest of rages, screamed obscenities, ranting and raving incoherently.
“Valentine obviously harbored a long-time grudge against the Tribune columnist, who had defended Twins manager Sam Mele when he was set down for five days following an altercation with Valentine on the playing field.’’
The MMQ then opined that Cronin had done the right thing in firing Valentine, if the umpire’s “violent tantrum’’ that he witnessed was a criteria.
Further Googling gave this information on Mele’s altercation with Valentine:
“ … Mele was involved in one unfortunate incident during the 1965 campaign. During a July 18 doubleheader with the Los Angeles Angels, he got into it with umpire Bill Valentine and his left hand connected – or nearly so – with Valentine’s jaw.
“There was clearly some pushing and shoving. Mele said he didn’t remember hitting the umpire, but news reports quoted him as saying, '‘He had his finger stuck in my face. I know that.’ He later said, with a wink, ‘I tripped, I stumbled into him. I guess I stumbled into him first.'
'Mele was fined $500 and suspended for five days.’’
Sid, that feisty fellow, taking a football block from an enraged umpire and still cranking out columns 48 years later -- amazing.
I did the writing for Sid’s autobiography in 1997 and he never got around to telling me about withstanding the charge of the wild-eyed umpire. Dang him.