They became known simply as “Sidisms.” Those humorous malaprops and mispronunciations that became as much an indelible part of Sid Hartman’s long, illustrious career as his scoops and “close personal friends.”
Dave Mona, a onetime newspaper reporter and Hartman’s longtime Sunday morning radio co-host, once said that the only difference between Yogi Berra and Hartman was that Hartman actually said the things attributed to him.
There was irony in the humor inspired by Sidisms, because most of those who knew Hartman will attest that he was mostly devoid of a sense of humor, especially if the topic was himself.
Sid died Sunday. The Sidisms will live on.
Years ago, during a radio interview with major league umpire Tim Tschida on the difference in philosophies in the American and National Leagues, Hartman posed this question to the St. Paul native: “Isn’t the real difference the lack of the umpires’ inconsistency?”
Mona grabbed a pen, jotted down the blooper and sent the quote to Sports Illustrated. When the magazine published the item, Mona couldn’t wait to inform Hartman, whose reaction can best be described as befuddled.
“I don’t think he ever understood why that was funny,’’said Mona, who chronicled a number of Hartman’s best humorous anecdotes in his book, “Beyond the Sports Huddle.”
“When we went to banquets together and I told that joke, we’d walk out afterward and he’d say, kind of sadly, ‘How come everybody laughs when we tell that joke?’ ” Mona said. “Genetically, when they handed out a sense of humor, he didn’t get one.”
And yet, there are an endless number of humorous anecdotes in which Hartman was the central figure. He was, to put it mildly, gullible, and it was a quality that made Hartman a sitting duck for practical jokes, some of which have attained legendary status.
Hartman was frequently late-arriving, whether it be for news conferences or banquets. He once rushed into a banquet, where he was seated at the head table with his close friend and, at the time, Vikings coach Bud Grant. Hartman, fearing he had missed out on the first course, pointed to a bowl of red liquid, asking Grant about the contents. Grant told him it was a delicious cold Italian soup, and Hartman proceeded to lap down an entire bowl of salad dressing, to the amusement of Grant and many others who had caught the twinkle in the coach’s eye.
Former Gophers football coach Glen Mason vividly remembers the day he was sitting in assistant Tim Allen’s office and Hartman entered as he almost always did, walking through the open door without knocking or asking if the coach had the time to talk. Hartman’s objective on this day was to get the first interview with incoming quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq.
“About then, one of my managers walks in — young kid, blond hair, blue yes, glasses, probably about 5-9, 150 pounds — and says, ‘Coach, have a minute?’ ” Mason recalled several years ago. “I said, ‘No, but I’ll be free in a half-hour. Come back then,’ and he turns and walks out.
“Sid is sitting there, and says, ‘Who is that kid?’ And I said, ‘That’s Asad Abdul-Khaliq.’ And he jumped out of his chair, chased him down the hall saying, ‘Hey, hey, I’ve got to talk to you.’ Tim and I are in the office just dying.”
It took about four questions, Mason said, for Hartman to realize he’d been had.
Hartman’s newspaper peers also frequently took advantage of his gullible side. During the years the Twins, Vikings and Gophers shared the Metrodome, it was common to have a football game played on Saturday night, and a baseball game Sunday afternoon.
Hartman, of course, was the only Minneapolis reporter attending every weekend event. Before the Sunday afternoon Twins game, a co-worker of Hartman’s at the Minneapolis paper secretly removed the senior columnist’s electrical cord, knowing that Hartman never started writing until midway through the game.
Like clockwork, Hartman in the fifth inning opened his computer — in these days, the machine was a cumbersome word processor known as a “Portabubble” — and found no cord. The ensuing conversation went like this:
Co-worker who removed the cord: “Weren’t you at the Vikings game last night?”
Hartman: “Yes, I was.”
Co-worker who removed the cord: “I bet you left it in the football press box.”
Without saying a word, Hartman dashed out the baseball press box and ran halfway around the Dome into the football press box, where the entire baseball media contingent, now in on the joke, watched him scour the desk and floors in the football box.
Of course, when he returned his machine was plugged in, ready to go.
Now, jump ahead one year later. Baseball game on Sunday after a Saturday night Vikings game. Hartman and the same co-worker at the Twins game.
And the exact — right down to the words, “Weren’t you at the Vikings game last night?” — were repeated. Same result: Hartman running to the football press box, searching in vain for his cord, returning to a plugged-in machine.
Did we say gullible?
Lou Nanne as a North Stars player frequently took advantage of Hartman’s penchant for arriving late to hockey games, which was not Sid’s favorite sport. Nanne had scored an early goal in one such game, and in the postgame locker room Hartman arrived carrying his trusty sidekick — a large black tape recorder that he used until late in his career.
“He sits down, turns the tape recorder on, puts the mike in front of my face and says, ‘You got a goal tonight, tell me about it,’ ” Nanne said. “Of course, he immediately starts looking around to see who else he can talk to [another Hartman trademark]. So I told him, ‘I didn’t score tonight,’ and he said, ‘I thought you scored tonight,’ and I tell him ‘No’ again. So he shuts the mike off and leaves. The next day he shows up and he’s hopping mad because he found out I had scored.”
Nanne, as general manager of the team after his playing career ended, took a good deal of criticism when he traded Bobby Smith, the face of the franchise, to Montreal for a package of players. Nanne said that during the season before the deal, Smith’s playing time had been reduced, and the player wasn’t happy about it.
“Sid would come down to my office and say, ‘Geez, you’re going to have to trade him if he doesn’t get going,’ ” Nanne said. “He kept that up for a couple months. Early the next year, same thing. Bobby’s not playing much for [new coach Bill] Mahoney, and Sid is saying, ‘You’re going to have to trade him.’ What he didn’t know at the time was Bobby Smith had come to me six months before and said, ‘I want to be traded.’
“[Smith] finally put a time limit on it, and told me he was going to quit and go back to college. Of course, we never let that out, because you’re under pressure to make the trade. But Bobby finally says, ‘You’ve got until the end of November to make the trade.’ So I made the trade.”
Criticism came from all corners. Former Star Tribune columnist Doug Grow advised readers to hang onto their valuables, because Nanne was a guy who would trade our lakes for streams. The North Stars had a game the night of the trade, and Nanne said Hartman barreled into his office demanding to know why he had traded Smith.
“I said, ‘Sid, you told me to trade him, and that’s why I traded him,’ ” Nanne said. “He said, ‘No I didn’t.’ And I said, ‘Yes you did, and now I can’t get him back. You wanted him gone, and I’m going to tell everyone it wasn’t my idea.’
“He’s telling me, ‘No, I didn’t tell you that. No, I didn’t say that,’ ” Nanne said. “He was absolutely panicked.”
One of Hartman’s classic moments came with Mona on the Sunday morning radio show at a time when U.S. President Bill Clinton was fending off talk of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
Mona asked Hartman: “And what about that Lipinski?” — a reasonable question, since the previous night U.S. figure skater Tara Lipinski had won an Olympic gold medal.
Said Hartman: “I don’t care what people say he might have done. I still think the guy’s been one hell of a president.”
And Sid didn’t see the humor in that one, either.
Dennis Brackin is a former sports reporter and editor at the Star Tribune.