The occasion was the legendary sportswriter’s first estate sale, in which Sid offered up clothes, autographs and mementos from his seven-decade career in covering Minnesota sports, while simultaneously providing the gathered dozens a chance to pay tribute to an American original.
“He is the last of the original old-time sportswriters/sports editors in this country. He’s an institution around here,” said Bud Armstrong, a former Strib sports editor whom Hartman hired 50 years ago and who obviously regards The Great Man with a good deal of affection and respect. “There used to be a guy like him in Atlanta, and he died 10 or 15 years ago. He’s incredible. He’s the hardest-working newspaperman I’ve ever met in my life.”
“He’s a holdover from an era that’s long gone: The columnist that knows everything that’s going on around town, and writes about it in a big column,” said Ken Chia, Sid’s current editor at the Strib. “It’s 2014 and he’s still more or less doing the same thing he always has. He’ll still go to the Bierman building, to Winter Park, he was at the Timberwolves game the other night. I don’t think we’ll see the likes of him again – not only here, but anywhere – once he’s gone.”
Savor the man and the moment. That was the unspoken sentiment in St. Louis Park over the weekend, as Sid fans browsed and bought Sid bobbleheads, books, shoes, jackets, sports coats, recording equipment and other ephemera. For two hours Sid himself sat at the table looking both pleased and ornery. He pled hard of hearing to anyone who got too close, and when the line slowed down he impatiently tapped the table with a Sharpee, his owly seen-it-all eyes suggesting he’d rather be watching a game or reporting a story.
“This is a letter from Gene Washington,” said a man dressed in full-blown Michigan State gear, handing Sid an envelope from the former Spartans and Vikings wide receiver and turning up the volume on his monologue.
“He asked me to bring this to you today, sir. It’s from Gene Washington, and his home phone number is in there. It’s a little note, and he said you were the first person who called him, even before the Vikings.”
“Good guy,” said Sid.
“He thought you were the general manager of the Vikings; he had no idea who you were and the Vikings did not call for one week. He said he couldn’t get here, but that he’d like for you to call him some day. He still listens to you on satellite radio. I talked to him at the Rose Bowl. He’s still your friend, but he’s in Texas.”
“OK. Thank you,” said Sid, tucking the envelope into his jacket pocket.
“I just wanted to shake your hand,” said a beaming middle-aged woman, thrusting her hand nervously toward the man and myth whose bronze statue stands outside Target Center. “I’m a good friend of Mark Rosen’s. Does that make you feel OK? I just wanted to shake your hand and get a picture. I’m a longtime listener.”
“Is everything OK?,” said Sid.
“Everything’s OK,” said the woman.
And so on. Like true believers on a papal pilgrimage, the wellwishers peppered their greetings with “Thank you, Sid” and “You look great, Sid.” One such follower was Dennis Warner, a songwriter and musician who grew up reading and listening to Sid on WCCO with his father.
“Great career,” said Warner. “I really admire his stories about how he grew up as a newspaper delivery boy, just a kid delivering newspapers door-to-door and working his way up to being the star of the newspaper. It’s a rags to riches story, it’s Minnesota, it’s beautiful.”
To be sure, the journalism business has changed dramatically since Sid first started peddling copies of the Minneapolis Tribune in the 1930s and writing for the Minneapolis Daily Times in the 1940s. Still, his curiosity, competitiveness and tenacity remain a model for journalism veterans and newbies alike, and his connections and flesh-and-blood “close personal friends” list makes even the most active social media mavens look like shut-ins.
“There probably will never be another Sid Hartman, literally,” said veteran WCCO radio host John Williams, who scored an autographed Sid tie Saturday morning. “I don’t think our industry is going to have the luxury of producing one. Smaller and medium (sized) market radio are not doing this anymore and major market radio can’t find the next Sid Hartman, either, and neither can the newspaper market. But we’ve still got one in this town who is every week doing newspaper, radio, and TV. Drive around America and see if there’s one of those somewhere else. There just aren’t.”