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What it was like to work with — or, rather, around — Sid Hartman

There were the times when you wanted to smack Sid. And there were times you wanted to hug him.

I worked with Sid Hartman. Well, maybe not with Sid. But like everyone else who has worked at the Star Tribune, I worked around Sid. That means that sometimes I wanted to whack Sid with a 2 x 4. Other times, I wanted to hug the man.

Oh, Sid. There’ll never be another one like you.

For a long time, I never really believed that line that Sid used about so many sports celebrities. “He’s my close personal friend,’’ he’d say of sports personalities ranging from Bobby Knight to Roger Maris.

At first, I thought Sid was either BS-ing me, or himself. Most journalists quickly learn that the people we cover are not our “close personal friends.” Relationships journalists have with people we cover are transactional. Journalists want access. The people we cover want what we have. (In the old days, that was ink by the barrel.)

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But in Sid’s case, it was true: He did seem to have unique relationships with his subjects.

One of my most memorable Sid moments came during the 1981 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was covering the series for the Minneapolis Star. Sid was there for the Minneapolis Tribune.

As it happened, Sid and I were walking together through a maze underneath Yankee Stadium. Suddenly, George Steinbrenner, the controversial owner of the Yankees, came around a corner. He spotted Sid.

“Sid! Sid! how are you doing Sid?’’ Steinbrenner said with what seemed genuine excitement.

Sid Hartman
Star Tribune
Sid Hartman
Sid introduced me to Steinbrenner, who was unimpressed. Then, Steinbrenner and Sid chatted a few moments as I stood off to the side.

Conversation over, Sid and I continued our pregame stroll through the maze, probably in search of the free media food and beverage spread. And then Joe DiMaggio stepped around a corner.

“Sid, it’s great to see you,” DiMaggio said enthusiastically.

Sid introduced me to DiMaggio, who shook my hand with little enthusiasm. But then he turned his attention to Sid and the two chatted amiably for a few minutes before Sid and I resumed our walk down the corridor.

Oh, yes, Sid was close personal friends with just about everyone who mattered in sports. There was a reason for that. Those sports celebrities knew that Sid never was going to report anything negative about them. And Sid knew that as long as he kept up his end of the bargain, those close personal friends would always be available for a quote for his column, or appear for a couple of minutes on one of his sports programs on WCCO Radio. Occasionally, there would be a big payoff: A close personal friend would give Sid a tip that would lead to a big-time scoop.

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I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch mine isn’t how they teach the practice of journalism in university classes. But Sid never had the luxury of journalism classes. When he was on a university campus, it was to cover a sporting event. Fact is, few in Minnesota probably have spent so much time on the University of Minnesota campus as Sid Hartman.

Oh, how he loved the Gophers. And how most Gopher coaches loved Sid, or at least were smart enough to give him what he wanted, which was a few innocuous comments about next week’s game. In return, a few glowing comments from Sid might help the coach win a recruiting battle or wrest a big donation from an alum.

Sid’s relationships with coaches and athletic administrators was often an irritant to beat reporters trying to cover a program more objectively. Practices closed to regular sports reporters were open to Sid. Doors closed to the beat reporters were open to Sid.

Ever the competitor, or just the insecure lout he could be, Sid sometimes used those close relationships with athletic officials to attempt to poison relationships between those officials and other reporters.

“Don’t talk to Grow, you can’t trust him,’’ Sid would tell a coach, an athlete or an administrator.

Typically, most coaches, athletes or administrators were sophisticated enough to know that Sid was just trying to play them. Still, those were the times when you wanted to smack Sid.

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But there was the other Sid, too. The times he would reach out, concerned. In my case, one of the members of my family was having serious health problems. “I know people at Mayo,’’ Sid said. “If you need to get them to Mayo just let me know.’’

It was at times like that I wanted to hug him.

Mostly, I think I understood Sid. He was simply a super fan of all things Minnesota (but especially University of Minnesota men’s sports teams). When the boys didn’t win, he was in pain. And when they didn’t win, it wasn’t because the Minnesota coach failed, or the Minnesota athlete stumbled. It was because the university needed to build a new stadium, or because the refs cheated, or the opposing coach violated NCAA recruiting rules.

Oh Sid, there’ll never be another one like you.