Sid Hartman was, for all of his 100-plus years, a hometown guy. ¶ Born on the North Side of Minneapolis on March 15, 1920, he worked for newspapers in his hometown for nearly his entire life, until his death on Sunday afternoon. ¶ From a humble start selling newspapers on the street in 1928, he wrote about sports for the Star Tribune for the ensuing decades. He was still writing three columns a week, his final one appearing on the day he died. ¶ "My father's extraordinary and resilient life has come to a peaceful conclusion surrounded by his family," his son, Chad Hartman, tweeted early Sunday afternoon, announcing his passing. ¶ "I want to make it clear — he didn't die from COVID — but COVID took away the enjoyment from his life by making him stay home," his son said later. "It took away the chance to see the people he liked. It took away his zest, not being able to go four, five different places every day and to laugh, to get on people and have them get on him."
Sid Hartman also was for decades a radio voice on WCCO.
He gained a stature very few journalists have achieved, becoming one of this state's legendary public figures. For years, he was also a power broker in the local sports scene, playing an integral role in the early success of the Minneapolis Lakers pro basketball team while serving as the team's de facto general manager and working behind the scenes to help bring Major League Baseball to Minnesota.
He created a rags-to-riches story unlike any his hometown has seen, working his way from the very bottom of the newspaper industry to one of the most influential and popular figures ever to use a typewriter and, later, computer for his livelihood. He also became a popular radio personality for WCCO and for 20 years was a panelist on a Sunday night TV show. If Minnesotans referred to "Sid," there was no doubt whom they were talking about, much the same as the first-name status of the greatest of those he covered, men like "Kirby" and "Harmon" and "Bud."
According to a count by Star Tribune staffer Joel Rippel, Hartman produced 21,235 bylined stories in his career, from 1944 until the one that ran on C2 of the Sports section on the day he died, Oct. 18. That column was his 119th of 2020.
Much of Hartman's success can be traced to his relentless reporting style. He developed and nurtured contacts, and his vocation was a labor of love. Hartman had no false illusions about his writing ability, one of the few newspaper journalists who required another reporter to write his "autobiography."
Many of those he encountered in his job became his closest friends. Sports were Hartman's life, around the clock, although in his later years he showed his softer side by becoming a doting grandfather.
Chad Hartman followed his father into the sports media, doing play-by-play for the Timberwolves, now hosting a general-interest radio show on WCCO. It's given him a deeper insight into what made his father tick.
"He is the most competitive person I've ever met in my life," he said. "It was something — that competitiveness — that allowed him to love his life. And the ability to build a life to enjoy, to come from where he started to reach his level of success, it's a remarkable story."
Hartman started selling newspapers as a 9-year-old, pedaling his bicycle to Newspaper Alley, where he would buy 100 copies of the Minneapolis Star, the Journal, the Morning Tribune or the Evening Tribune for $1.10, then sell them for 2 cents apiece.
"If you sold 100, you made 90 cents," Hartman said.
Hartman's basic task — selling newspapers — never changed, although his outlet for accomplishing the task did, starting when he was hired by sports editor Dick Cullum to work on the sports desk of the Minneapolis Times in 1944.
The Times was a latter-day version of the Evening Tribune. The Times folded in 1948. Hartman was quickly hired at the Morning Tribune by Charlie Johnson, the executive sports editor of the Morning Tribune and the afternoon Star. It was from there, writing his daily column of news and notes in the Tribune, that Hartman became a Minnesota legend.
The periodic readership surveys during Hartman's long tenure at the paper always told the same story: Sid Hartman's column was a big reason people bought it.
"Sid's contributions to the Star Tribune during nearly half of its 153-year history are immeasurable," Star Tribune publisher Michael Klingensmith said. "He leaves an amazing legacy and we will miss him greatly. It won't be the same reading our sports pages without Sid's column."
Hartman also worked for WCCO Radio starting in 1955. He became as much of a fixture there as he was in the Minneapolis morning newspaper, with daily call-ins, with coaches' interviews on pregame shows and with a long-running Sunday morning show that produced large ratings.
Hartman was successful in the business world. He was a partner with Al Rubinger in the apartment business. They started Sidal Realty in 1957 with a 26-unit building on Blaisdell Avenue in Minneapolis and expanded gradually through the years. Rubinger died on July 21, 2016, at the age of 95. The Rubinger family still runs the business.
Actually, the partnership of Rubinger and Hartman had started in 1940. They scraped together $500 and bought a lunch counter that also had a pool table. It was located across the street from 425 Portland Av. S., the address of the Star Tribune until 2015.
Hartman and Rubinger called it the Press Row Recreation Room. They owned it for 18 months before selling for a small profit. It was there that Hartman got to know Cullum and some of the other sportswriters.
Hartman had gone from selling newspapers on corners to a news run for the Tribune circulation department. He would drop papers in bulk in an area of the city for carriers, then would collect from the carriers.
"It was a plum job," he said. "You could make 50 bucks a week — big money in the late '30s. I was a junior at North High, and I dropped out to take that job."
The big break
He was in a panic in 1941, when the Tribune and Times were sold to the Cowles family (already the owners of the Star and Journal) and his news run was eliminated.
"I was out of work," Hartman said in his 1996 autobiography. "I started selling vacuum cleaners and had a chance to be world's worst vacuum cleaner salesman. Fortunately, Louie Mohs saved me. He wound up as the circulation manager at the Times. There was only one news run, in the downtown area, and Mohs gave it to me."
Cullum was looking to hire someone for his Times sports desk in 1944. His friend Mohs said, "I got the guy for you," and mentioned Hartman's name.
Cullum knew Sid previously and agreed to give Sid a shot — for the kingly sum of $11.50 per week. It was soon apparent that reporting, not editing copy, would be Hartman's strength as a newspaperman.
For his entire career, Hartman gave Cullum credit for this advice: Don't worry about writing. Get the news. Writers are easy to find. Reporters aren't.
Hartman said that Cullum, during those three-plus years they were together at the Times, used to taunt the sports editors at the powerful Tribune and Star over the scoops Hartman was delivering.
"This kid has the greatest legs of anybody I've seen in the business," Cullum would say.
Cullum was referring to Hartman's habit of nonstop enterprise in search of news.
He still had those amazing legs in 2001, when the NCAA Final Four was at the Metrodome. The room for postgame interviews was straight up the loading ramp.
"All the reporters were trudging up the ramp, trying to get a few quotes to beat deadline," said Lenox Rawlings of the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal. "Then I saw this man, carrying an ancient, giant-sized tape recorder, sprint past all of us and go tearing up that ramp.
"I thought, 'That looks like Sid.' I looked again and said, 'It is Sid.' "
Said Chris Schmitt, Sid's daughter: "Did you ever try walking with Sid? We'll get out of the car. I'll be getting the two kids organized. I will look up. He is two blocks away. I'll start screaming, 'Sid. Come back, Sid.' "
The Gophers beat
Hartman had sold newspapers outside Memorial Stadium, then sneaked in to watch Bernie Bierman's dynastic football teams, starting in the 1930s through 1941. After World War II, Bierman was back as coach and Sid was covering his team.
As important as Gophers football was to the public through 1941, Hartman said the hype and excitement was much greater after World War II.
"The war was over, people had money and the Big Ten started sending teams to the Rose Bowl," Hartman said. "That was the crusade — to get to the Rose Bowl."
Hartman developed a very close relationship with those postwar Gophers, particularly Bud Grant. Obviously, this later would serve Hartman very well when it came to access and information. Grant became the coach of the Vikings in 1967, and turned that football team — rather than the Gophers — into the most important story in Minnesota sports.
Grant remained so close to Hartman that, when he decided to retire for the first time after the 1983 season, he gave the story exclusively to Sid.
The Gophers missed a chance to go to the Rose Bowl in 1949. When they had a losing season in 1950, the wealthier, louder postwar boosters rose up and Bierman was fired.
By then, Hartman was writing both a daily column and covering the Gophers for the Minneapolis Tribune. In 1957, he became the sports editor of the Tribune. For more than a decade, he would write his column six days a week, run the sports department and also take care of his radio duties at WCCO.
Not just covering sports
There were no clear lines between sports journalism and boosterism in this era. John Cowles Sr., the owner of the Star and Tribune, wanted more than anything to bring a Major League Baseball team to Minneapolis.
Charlie Johnson was both the executive sports editor of the Star and Tribune and the main spokesman for the task force trying to get a ballclub. Hartman was Johnson's right-hand man, attending league meetings and taking part in the behind-the-scenes manipulating to get a team. Soon, the Washington Senators were on the move and became the Minnesota Twins.
Sid was pulling strings on getting the Twins and the expansion Vikings only a year after the Minneapolis Lakers had departed for Los Angeles. Hartman earlier had been the de facto general manager of those Lakers. The concession to journalism was that he did not often write about the Lakers in his newspaper column.
Hartman and official GM Max Winter were able to get the NBL's rights to George Mikan. When they signed the great center early in the 1947-48 season, after his Chicago team had folded, the Lakers were a powerhouse. The Lakers won the NBL title in 1948. The league then merged with the Basketball Association of America, the forerunner of the NBA. The Lakers won five NBA titles over the next six years.
Hartman's influential basketball background was confirmed in September 2003, when he was a recipient of the Curt Gowdy Award at the National Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
In 2010, a statue of Hartman was unveiled outside of Target Center. The next year, before a game between the Wolves and Los Angeles Lakers, Hartman was honored for his contributions to both organizations. In 2016, the Vikings dedicated the media entrance at U.S. Bank Stadium in Hartman's name. The Twins and Gophers have also honored Hartman in recent years.
Loyal to his friends
Hartman was famous for his "close personal friends." The term was coined by Steve Cannon, the WCCO Radio personality with whom Sid appeared for years during afternoon drive time.
Hartman had four of those close friends with the Vikings: Bud Grant, Jerry Burns, Winter and Jim Finks. He was tight with Paul Giel, the athletic director at the U, and any influential Gophers coach — from John Mariucci to P.J. Fleck.
He was tight with Lou Nanne, Walter Bush, Gordie Ritz and all the influential people with the North Stars.
The Twins? Years later, Twin Cities reporters could encounter Sam Mele, the manager of the Twins' 1965 World Series team, in the Boston Red Sox training camp. Mele's first question never varied: "How's Sid doing?"
Hartman's autobiography, "Sid! The Sports Legends, the Inside Scoops and the Close Personal Friends," was released in 1996. The people giving endorsements included Arnold Palmer, Wayne Gretzky, Ted Williams and Bob Costas, as well as Bobby Knight, George Steinbrenner, Lou Holtz, etc.
Ten years after the autobiography, the Star Tribune published "Sid Hartman's Great Minnesota Sports Moments." This book's back cover featured a quote: "I grew up on Sid Hartman columns about my Midwestern sports heroes — and I still think of him as a Hall of Fame newspaperman." That came from Tom Brokaw.
If that book felt like a capstone of sorts to Hartman's career, the publishers were off by about 15 years.
More than once, Hartman was asked in his 90s why he still was at it most every day.
"I don't know what else I would do," he'd say, the idea of relaxing and enjoying a slower pace not for one moment occurring to him.
Hartman, however, did speak often of his family, especially later in life. He celebrated his 99th birthday with family members and made sure to attend events for his grandchildren.
Hartman was married to Barbara Balfour in 1964. They were divorced in 1972. He had two children: daughter Chris and son Chad.