Three decades into a newspaper career at the Star Tribune, I joined the sports department as the high school sports editor in 2011. I drew a desk next to the newsroom vending machines, around the corner from the office of Sid Hartman, six decades into his. We didn’t have much of a relationship, unless you count when he nearly ran me over with his Cadillac in the company parking lot.
At the time I had a sportsy-sounding manager title — director of player personnel — prompting him to occasionally yell across the newsroom that “if the Vikings had you, they’d fire you!’’
But now in his 90s, he frequently handed me the late-afternoon bottle of Mountain Dew he bought from the machine because his hands couldn’t unscrew the cap. The Star Tribune was preparing then to relocate to an office tower, and Sid had a shrine of an office to pack up and move. As the sports department’s designated “move captain,’’ I wondered how that would go for someone so steeped in routines at 425 Portland Ave. going back to the Franklin Roosevelt administration.
So every once in a while, I grabbed my phone and chronicled what I saw and heard, and shared on Instagram what became a window into the twilight of Sid’s life.
March 17, 2015
Call it the Miracle on Portland Avenue: Some Disassembly Required. / Two days after he decided not to come to the office on his 95th birthday, Sid Hartman brought some help to strip down his famed office. / Thank God for Milt. / He helped Sid peel off 70 years of sportswriting history, mostly pictures of sports celebrities, usually with Sid over their shoulder. / Only Milt, who has worked for Sid for 25 years, went up on the ladder. He also serves as Sid’s driver, runs his boat and performs any number of tasks for someone legendarily bullheaded and tough to work with. / “I’ve known Sid a long time,” Milt said. “Some days it’s fun and some days I want to pull my hair out.” / Then Sid interrupted, “Hey, Mr. Preps,” he said, aware that I’m the department’s move liaison as we ready to leave the building next week. “Can I have another box?” / I noticed that more stuff was being packed up and saved rather than tossed into dumpsters. What are you going to do with all this, I asked. / Standing on the ladder, Milt turned to me when Sid wasn’t looking. / “Ever been in his home?” he asked. “Unbelievable.”
March 21, 2015
Sid Hartman, age 95, leaves the Star Tribune building Friday for one of the last times in his 70-year newspaper career.
Feb. 19, 2016
He came over, sat down and started telling stories. / It was Sid at his animated best, voice rising, laughing, waving his arms. Unaware the price tag for his shirt was still attached under his arm. / And spinning tales about years long gone from his 71 years of newspapering in Minneapolis. / There was Ted Peterson, taking high school football calls for “every score in the state” back when the newspaper was delivered in big numbers to North and South Dakota. / “Crazy” Louie Green, the slot man — last to touch stories before they were typeset — threatening to kill then-sportswriter Jim Klobuchar for going behind his back after Green chopped down his story. / And the outdoors writer who couldn’t hit deadline, instead peering through “spyglasses” into the uncurtained windows of the general hospital’s women’s dormitory across the street. / Or the time Sid took one of sportswriter Halsey Hall’s liquor bottles and rolled it down the hall past the office of John Cowles Sr., newspaper owner and civic titan. Hall later became a beloved Twins radio broadcaster, legendarily famous for going silent late in games because he had passed out. / “John Cowles says to Halsey, ‘Well, we don’t allow drinking here. Maybe I should fire you.’’’ / A big smile crossed Sid’s face. / “We could pull tricks like that,” he said, implying without saying how much times have changed. / “We had some dillies. / “Oh, we had some dillies.”
March 3, 2016
It’s almost been a year since the Star Tribune left its longtime home. The outpouring of hand-scrawled tributes on the final days in the newsroom have long since been reduced to rubble and hauled away. / “I cried when I left that building,” Sid said the other day, as I walked him out through the skyways connected to our new office tower home. He had a ride waiting for him, as he usually does, and someone in sports usually goes with him to make sure the nearly 96-year-old sports columnist doesn’t get lost. / He never had that problem at the old place. He was there decades ago when a giant “600,000” stood tall on the roof, announcing the Sunday newspaper circulation across a much shorter downtown skyline. / “A lot of memories in that building. I remember when the presses were downstairs. And on Sunday, if the Gophers won, before we had pro teams, they would keep a press crew on and they’d sell another 25,000 papers.” / The person Sid most closely identifies with the building, and the region’s pro sports emergence, is newspaper owner John Cowles Sr. / “He was something, boy. I worked with him and (publisher) Joyce Swan on getting those four (pro sports) teams. I tell you, he was one of the greatest guys that ever lived.” / …Then he looked toward the empty lot where he spent 67 years and talked like the building was still there. / “If those walls could talk about how we got all of those sports, it’d be a helluva story.”
Jan. 11, 2017
On a day when snow snarled the commute and many Minnesotans heeded advice to stay off the roads, almost 97-year-old Sid — barely three weeks after breaking his hip in a fall — roared back into the office. / With a walker. And a personal care provider. And a column to write for Thursday. / …Somewhat at a loss for how to mark the occasion, we got him balloons and a cake. There’s no script for a comeback like this. Breaking a hip at Sid’s age can often start a spiral of other maladies. / Not so with Sid. Heck, last Friday he got himself to the press conference to announce new Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck. Seated in the front row, he got up afterward and greeted Fleck, as he has every Gopher coach for the last 70 years. / His caregiver was with him then, too. She’s no slouch. After Sid supposedly ragged on her driving (probably, one editor said, for obeying red lights), she pulled over and told Sidney in no uncertain terms that she’s cared for people a lot more important than him. Not one of them, she said, had died because of her driving. / Sid was quiet after that. Some sports department wags figured he was trying to figure who could be a bigger deal than he was. / “There’s a couple rooms you can go in,” he told her as he got into his office and seemed concerned about what she would do while he worked. “You got something to read or something?” / Then Sid sat down with his assistant, he dictated his column, and all seemed normal again in the sports department. / …“All you guys have been great to me, and for an old man who can barely make it,” Sid said a few minutes earlier after we gave him a round of applause. / “You will,” someone called out. / Sid: “We’ll see what happens.”
Sept. 1, 2017
It was 11 o’clock at night, but Sid wasn’t finished. / After sitting through yet another Gopher football home-opener — that probably makes it No. 73 of his sportswriting career — he and his care nurse left the stadium and came back to the office so he could update his column for the morning paper. / …He worried about it being too long. He worried about meeting his deadline. On the internet, such notions mean less than they do for the making of a newspaper, a world embedded in Sid’s veins since he first delivered Minneapolis newspapers as a kid in the 1930s. Somebody quipped on Twitter during the game that Gopher receiver Tyler Johnson and Sid were “a mere 78 years apart” as Minneapolis North High students. / … “What are you doing here?” Sid asked me as he stuck his big hand in the bag of pretzels I offered him. / “What are YOU doing here?” I shot back, trying to imagine a 97-year-old man, with a walker, sitting at that hour at a desk in any other office of the massive Capella Tower that houses the newsroom. Let alone an office anywhere in the world, with a nonagenarian actually doing paid work at 11 p.m. Ever. / Sid does this routinely when there’s a night home football game. / Not surprisingly, he didn’t answer my question. He kept his eyes on the screen and asked his assistant the most important question when you’re on deadline. / “How much time do we have?”
June 16, 2018
Sid plopped down across from my desk one day last week, his walker nearby. That’s better than a few days earlier, when he somehow showed up in the office without it. / He can’t forget his care aides, fortunately. / “If I didn’t have those two, I wouldn’t be around.’’ / The 98-year-old resident curmudgeon is equally reliant on Jeff, his assistant, who received a much-deserved newsroom award recently for supporting Sid’s productivity surge during the Super Bowl. / Sid maintains loudly that he’s never been recognized in-house in his 7-plus decades. / “Of course, I would never win an award,’’ he grumped to several people that day. “I have more bylines than anybody who works here.’’ / “Aren’t you in a hall of fame, Sid?’’ his assistant countered. “Don’t you have a statue down by Target Center?’’ / Then Sid was off making the rounds. / “Good column about that Japanese guy,’’ he told Chip Scoggins, who wrote about baseball phenom Sohei Ohtani, a name Sid will never come close to pronouncing. / “What’s wrong with your Lynx?’’ he said to another. / “What would you do if you didn’t have the internet?’’ he yelled at his new favorite foil, who writes about sports analytics. To Sid, reporting is about access, about getting people to talk to you. Not what you can find out with a computer, which he leaves to his assistant. / … Sid has racked up a phenomenal 22,000 bylines in his sportswriting career. / “Here’s the thing,’’ he told me. “I can get in any place that nobody else can get in.’’ // “People don’t turn you down,’’ I said. “Who could turn you down?’’ / “I’m just saying. I’m not trying to brag,’’ he said, and has said, many times. // After a long pause, I asked him, “How much longer you gonna do it?’’ / “As long as I’m livin’,” he said without hesitation. “My biggest trouble — I don’t find enough stuff to do’’ outside of work. “I’m talking about life. This keeps me busy.’’ / Then as he stood up to leave, Sid looked toward his office. / “Hey, Joe!’’ he called out, mispronouncing Joel, the veteran clerk keeping count of his bylines. “I have 22,000?’’ / “Close to it,’’ was the reply. / Sid, as competitive now as ever, yelled back: “Anybody close?”
Oct. 28, 2019
On Monday afternoon, the 75th anniversary of Sid’s first newspaper byline — Oct. 28, 1944 — he rolled past the open door of the sports editors’ afternoon meeting and looked all business. No stop of the walker for his customary rip of “all the geniuses in one room.’’ / Sid’s first story, headlined “Four Years Old, Henry Boasts Two City High School Championships,’’ was about Patrick Henry High School, on the same north side of Minneapolis where Sid had attended another high school and never graduated. But he loved hawking newspapers as a kid. He was working in the circulation department of the Minneapolis Times when the sports department was looking to hire an intern. / Sid, then 24 years old, got the job. / That first story is seasoned with the sports language of the era, with phrases such as “grid team’’ and “cage crown.’’ Season tickets were “season ducats.’’ / ... Asked what he recalled of byline No. 1 as he perused a copy of it, Sid said, “I don’t remember too much.’’ / Some 21,086 bylines later, it’s easy to see why. Besides, he was on a quest that included calling former NFL coach Bill Parcells for a column on the Minnesota Vikings football coach. / “Talk about Zimmer, what a great job he’s doing,’’ Sid shouted into his landline phone, displaying the kind of softball question that marks his style today probably as much as it did back when FDR was running for a fourth term as president and D-Day wasn’t even five months old. / Sid couldn’t stop talking — well, boasting — about his Parcells interview afterward, which included Sid thanking the coach repeatedly and offering to put him on his radio show. / “How do you like that?’’ he marveled to his assistant after the call. “How do you like that? Parcells takes my call.’’ / The former coach also asked Sid a question that, after hearing the answer, makes all of us marvel every day he shows up for work. / “NINETY-NINE,’’ Sid yelled into his phone.
See more of Paul Klauda’s Sid captures on Instagram by searching the hashtag #sidstrib