Gene Mauch was standing on an infield at the Royals' Baseball City complex and he saw a rotund figure from his past approaching. There was an exchange of handshakes and then Mauch asked: "How is Sid doing?"
"Mean as a snake," the rotund figure said.
Mauch smiled and said: "Good. That means he's perfect.’’
Baudette, Minn. Baseball City, Fla. Bloomington, Ind. Mention the name - "Sid" - and you will get a smile and a shake of the head.
These are gestures of wonderment that Sidney Hartman continues to oversee the Big Ten, NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball, the Twin Cities and the Minnesota hinterlands from his perch in the Star Tribune's sports section and 830 on the AM radio tuner.
Today is Hartman's birthday. We would never be so intemperate as to ask Sid for confirmation, but there is reason to believe this birthday is a sparkling landmark near the mid-point of Sid's golden journey from 50 to the century mark. Certainly, there was irony in the wind on the day Sid entered this world, for it occurred on the Ides of March.
Julius Caesar merely had Brutus and his pals to contend with. Sid has Chris Voelz, (stadium onstructionist) Jim Niland, Michigan's sports-management program, football officials, basketball referees, university presidents, in-state recruits choosing out-of-state colleges, NCAA investigators, George Steinbrenner bashers, selective listeners, Lou Holtz bashers, selective readers, Bob Knight bashers, wordsmiths and geniuses.
There were rumors that, along with this significant birthday, Sid was celebrating his 50th year as a reporter. "Fifty-one," said Tom Briere, the now-retired, longtime Minneapolis baseball writer. "I started at the [Minneapolis] Times in May 1944 and Sid started in June 1944."
The sports editor was the great Dick Cullum. The Times folded five years later, and all those gentlemen wound up at the Minneapolis Tribune. Cullum wrote opinion on the first sports page. Sidney covered the University of Minnesota and also reported wide-ranging news - seven days a week - in Hartman's Roundup on the second sports page.
It was there the public first discovered that three Twin Cities gentlemen had decided to start a company called Control Data. It was there that the public was shocked to learn Ara Parseghian was retiring as Notre Dame's football coach. And it was there readers have learned tens of thousands of other things, including that Milt Sunde - the former Gophers and Vikings guard - could spell his name Sunday or Sundae or Sundey, but rarely Sunde.
"I can't spell cat," Sid has admitted, and a legion of Tribune sports copy editors have added, "If we spotted you the c and the t."
Sid also has had some trouble with names. A few years back, Michigan basketball star Rumeal Robinson became Rommel Robinson in a column turned in by Sid. The correction was made, but Robinson is now referred to as "The Playground Fox" around the sports desk.
Longevity and his bubbly personality have added to the legend, but what allowed Sid to reach that status originally was the ability to get the news. "You can get anybody on the telephone," Sid told a new Tribune copy boy in 1963.
Then, Sid proved it to the copy boy one Sunday afternoon. It was summer, the sun was shining and the rowdy youth of Prior Lake had obtained a frosty keg of beer, to be consumed in a farmer's meadow.
The copy boy did what any thirsty young man might do under those circumstances. He called the sports department, said he was sick and that he would not be in that evening. About the time the keg was tapped, the farmer came wheeling his truck down the dirt path with a message
"If Reusse is here, he is supposed to call Sid Hartman at the office, immediately."
I'm not sure how Sid found his missing copy boy in the meadow on that long-ago afternoon. I did work that night, answering phones, typing scores and running errands, most of which were for Sid. It was also the last time the copy boy tried to call in thirsty.
Sid wrote the Roundup and ran the sports department back then. He had brought in Ira Berkow, fresh from journalism school. Berkow idolized Red Smith, the magnificent New York sports columnist. Ira agonized for the opportunity to fill the Tribune sports pages with descriptive, hypnotic prose. Sid had him doing the baseball standings and covering a few prep games.
Finally, young Berkow was given a chance to cover a large event: the Kentucky Derby. It had been a hard sell by the managing editor to Sid to allow Berkow to attend an event not in Hartman’s budget plan.
On the afternoon Berkow was scheduled to file his first Derby piece, the Western Union machine started to clang in the office. Sid stopped going through the napkins and pieces of scrap paper where he had jotted down his column notes and strode quickly to the machine.
There, Sid discovered that Berkow had obtained an exclusive interview with Citation, the thoroughbred living in retirement on a Kentucky horse farm. Sid's shoulders sagged, a look of pain came over his face and he said: "I knew it was a mistake to send him. The SOB interviewed a horse."
In recent years, Berkow has shared the Sports of the Times column at the New York Times. Whenever a rotund fellow has encountered Berkow at a sporting event, Ira's first question is this: "How is Sid doing?"
Sid who? You never have to ask that, not in this office, and not from Baudette to Baseball City.