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John’s Journal: Remembering Sid Hartman

From The First Mention To Sid, Ken Griffey Jr. And My Sons

Posted: Monday, October 19, 2020 - 6:16 PM


Sid Hartman. Or to be more specific, Sid. You didn’t need to say the man’s last name for anyone in Minnesota to know who you were referring to. Sid died Sunday at age 100, the same day his final column was published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

I worked with Sid for nearly 20 years at the Star Tribune. For my first five years there I worked on the sports desk, meaning I was one of the people who bore the task of editing Sid’s column. Or as I like to call it, we translated Sid’s raw copy into English.

I could try to describe Sid, but the memories, the personal stories of Sid I carry with me seem to be the best way to tell you about the Sid I knew. These are not in chronological order, but the first story is about the first time I became aware of Sid, and for me the final story sums up Sid in all his glory, all his bombast, and all his caring sweetness.

“Who are they talking about?”

I did not grow up in Minnesota so I did not read Sid’s column as a youth. I was a college student working in the sports department at the Des Moines Register the first time I heard Sid’s name. It was 1980, the day after a Hawkeye-Gopher football game in Minneapolis, when some of the reporters who had been there were having a heated discussion in the Register newsroom. One of them hollered, "That son of a (bleep) thinks he owns the press box!" I whispered to someone, "Who are they talking about?" The reply: "Oh that (gd) Sid Hartman."

Sid, Tyus and the tape recorder

When there was a high-profile high school athlete in the Twin Cities, Sid liked to get them into his column. Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones, who went on to play at Duke and is now in the NBA, was Sid’s interview target during a state tournament game at Target Center. Whenever Sid came to a high school game, I acted as his guide, found him a seat next to me, answered his questions and tried to keep him happy.

During Apple Valley’s state quarterfinal game, Sid asked, “Can you help me get Tyus one-on-one?” I said I would be happy to do so. After the game, I talked to the Apple Valley coaches and told them when the team came out of the locker room I would escort Tyus into a quiet corner so he could be interviewed by Sid, and the other media members could talk to Tyus when Sid was finished. It worked out perfectly, except for one thing.

When I returned to press row, Sid was fiddling with his old battery-powered, shoulder-strap cassette tape recorder. He was pushing buttons, turning dials, holding it up to his ear. He handed it to me and said, “John, I can’t hear my interview with Tyus. Can you see if you can get it to work?”

I pushed, I turned, I listened. There was nothing but silence and I realized that Sid had never hit the “record” button when he talked to Tyus. Informed of this, Sid simply said, “When do they play again?” I told him their next game was the following day. He said, “OK, I’ll come back tomorrow and interview him again.” And he did.

Sid and the Internet

One of my favorite Sid quotes (yes, he actually said this): “There’s a lot of stuff on that Internet.”

My sister in Sid’s building

Sid was a partner in a real estate company that owns apartment buildings in the Twin Cities. One of my sisters lived in a Sid building for a time. Informed of this fact, he asked me, "Which building?" When I told him, he grew quite frantic and said, "What's she doing living in THAT neighborhood?" AND HE OWNED THE BUILDING.

Sid and George Steinbrenner

The New York Yankees were in town and one evening after a game Sid brought his buddy George Steinbrenner into the newsroom. We all shook hands with George as Sid beamed. This was before cell phone cameras and of course no one thought to holler at a photographer who was probably 20 feet away.

 

Sid and his close personal friend Chick

Chick Hearn was the longtime broadcast voice of the Los Angeles Lakers, calling games from 1961 until 2002. His given name was Francis but everyone had called him Chick since his college days. Over the years, Sid and Chick had become good friends. But Sid was less than famous for getting names correct, whether in print or in person.

Before a Lakers-Timberwolves game at Target Center, Chick was in the dining room having a pregame meal. Sid walked in, saw his close personal friend Chick Hearn and yelled, “There he is! The great CHUCK Hearn!”

The nicknames

Sid was famous for the nicknames he bestowed on people; part of that was because, again, he had a hard time remembering actual names. The person who wrote obituaries at the Star Tribune? Sid called him Mr. Mortuary. A fellow who had previously worked in Lansing, Michigan, was Mr. Lansing. A guy who wore flannel shirts on a regular basis was Mr. Shirts. For some reason Sid never came up with a nickname for me. He could have gone with Mr. Iowa (my home state) or Mr. Phoenix (where I had worked previously). He just called me John.

Before a game at Target Center, Sid saw someone who worked behind the scenes and said, “Hey, Mister (A)hole, how are you doing?” As Sid walked away the fellow absolutely beamed and said, “I’m moving up in the world. Before today Sid always just called me (A)hole! Now I’m MISTER (A)hole!”

 

Chad’s mailbox

It was called The Drive-By, The March, The Arrival. This was the moment in the late afternoon when Sid entered the Star Tribune newsroom to begin work on his column after spending all day visiting the headquarters of the Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Gophers and wherever else he wanted to go. He asked questions during these visits but didn’t write much down. He carried his old tape recorder (later replaced by an iPhone held by an assistant). When he entered the office, he handed that day’s tape to his designated transcriber – a talented, patient fellow named Jeff Day transcribed those tapes for years, right up to the end.

When my son Joe was attending the University of Minnesota, he worked as a part-time copy aide in the Star Tribune sports department. The main duty was answering the phones, taking scores and other info. Hearing of Sid’s death, he Tweeted from his home in the Phoenix area: “Always glad I wasn't the one who had to transcribe the Sid Hartman tapes, but happy someone was.”

Seeing Sid make The March would often tell you how his day was going. He always moved at a rapid pace and sometimes he would be quite jolly and sometimes he would be snarly.

One winter day, I looked across the newsroom from my desk and saw the snarling version of Sid storming in my general direction. He was definitely agitated. As he came within earshot I said, “Hey Sid, what’s wrong?” He went into an obscenity-laced tirade aimed directly at himself: “Well (obscenity) John! If I had a (obscenity) gun I’d shoot myself in the (obscenity) head! I was backing out of Chad’s (obscenity) driveway and I backed right over the (obscenity) mailbox! And that’s the SECOND (OBSCENITY) TIME I’VE DONE THAT!”

Sid, this means you

A message was written on white athletic tape over the threshold of the door that led from the Twins Metrodome clubhouse into the players-only training room: “No media past this point. Sid, this means you!” It never even slowed him down.

 

Sid Hartman is on vacation 

The Star Tribune created a coffee-table book of historic front pages upon the newspaper’s 125th anniversary book. I was flipping though the book one day in the office when Sid walked past. I said, “Hey Sid, look that this,” as I pointed to a front page from 90-some years before. “Look down here in the corner of the page. It says ‘Sid Hartman is on vacation.’ ” He laughed out loud.

I then had Sid sign my copy of the book. He wrote, “To John, Hope you are around for 125 (years) too. Love working with you. Sid Hartman.” I treasure that.

Where’s Steed!

During the Prep Bowl one year at the Metrodome after I had left the newspaper to join the MSHSL staff, Sid came booming into the press box and found me straight away. He needed to talk to MSHSL executive director Dave Stead … whose last name, as everyone knew, rhymes with “bread.” Sid barked, “Hey! Is Steed here? Where’s Steed?”

Sid the jaywalker

The old Star Tribune building was at 425 Portland Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. The employee parking lot was across the street, and it didn’t take much effort to use the crosswalk instead of jaywalking from parking lot to front door. One day Sid and I arrived at the same time, with him parking his Cadillac in his designated front-row spot and me and my beat-up Toyota finding a spot a few rows back. Sid didn’t go to the crosswalk and I guess I thought it would be rude if I followed the letter of the law. As we began our jaywalking journey across Portland Avenue, a car driving at or below the speed limit was getting closer and closer. Sid and I were clearly in the wrong. The driver slowed down and had every right to yell at us. But it was Sid who did the screaming … “Hey jerk! Where’d you learn to drive!”

Sid, Griffey and my sons

One day at the Star Tribune in 1996 or 1997, Sid overheard me telling a colleague on the sports desk that my two young sons, John and Joe, were big fans of Ken Griffey Jr. Without hesitation, Sid said, “The next time the Mariners are in town I’ll get tickets for you and your kids.” Well, he did a lot more than that.

Sid got us free tickets behind home plate and told us to meet him at the Metrodome media entrance early that day. He came out, waved us through security, led us down a stairwell and bam! We walked out of the Twins dugout and onto the field while the Twins were taking batting practice. Sid introduced my boys to Paul Molitor and Tom Kelly, who shook hands with my kids. Joe looked toward the Mariners dugout and said to his brother, “Hey Johnny! Look! That’s Lou Piniella!” It was pure magic. But there was more.

Sid told us he had arranged for the Twins team photographer to take a photo of me and my sons with Griffey (and Sid). I immediately envisioned an absolute keepsake Christmas card photo. But there was a wrench; the Mariners media relations person had not been informed of Sid’s plan and told him, “Sid, you have to run these things past me first.” Sid screamed obscenities at him, saying he knew the team’s general manager and he would have him fired. But Sid’s opponent stood firm.

As they argued, and seeing that Sid’s grand plan had been foiled, my sons and I went out to the left field seats in the hopes of catching some BP home run balls. We didn’t, but we wore the biggest smiles you can imagine at everything that had happened. We were in our seats at game time, behind home plate and in front of the press box. We were absolutely giddy. Sid saw us there and came running down to us with a concerned, disappointed look on his face. “Hey! Where’d you go?!” he said. “We were all set for the picture but I couldn’t find you!” Somehow, some way, the man had cleared the hurdles and I don’t believe he murdered anybody or got anyone fired while doing so.

Poor, dear Sid was absolutely crushed. He was devastated that his promised photo hadn’t happened. He went downstairs to the Twins clubhouse – during a game, mind you, which no one else would have been allowed to do -- and grabbed two baseballs that had been autographed by every member of the Twins. He brought my kids the baseballs along with media guides for both teams.

He apologized over and over. I told him, “Sid, are you kidding? Please don’t apologize. This has been the greatest day of my sons’ lives! And mine! We can’t thank you enough!”

Sid Hartman was one of a kind, a special person, and we’ll never see his like again.

Thank you, Sid.

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts.

A message was written on white athletic tape over the threshold of the door that led from the Twins Metrodome clubhouse into the players-only training room: “No media past this point. Sid, this means you!” It never even slowed him down.

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