MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Just like so many Sunday mornings before, Sid Hartman's column was printed in the sports section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Then he joined the sports talk show on WCCO AM radio.
This time, he did so as a 100-year-old.
During the coronavirus-triggered pause to the games that Hartman has spent chronicling over an eight-decade career, Minnesota sports teams and figures found a reason amid the somberness of the pandemic to celebrate Hartman's 100th birthday.
The Vikings produced a seven-minute video tribute, including greetings from former head coaches Bud Grant, Jerry Burns, Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier, former quarterbacks Brett Favre, Archie Manning and Fran Tarkenton, and broadcasters Al Michaels and Jim Nantz.
Hartman's weekly appearance on “The Sports Huddle” with co-hosts Dave Mona and Mike Max featured callers like former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson and former college football coach Lou Holtz, a few of the many famous names Hartman frequently referenced in print as a “close personal friend.” From George Steinbrenner to Bob Knight to Pete Carroll, Hartman's rolodex has long been a who's-who of the sports world.
“One of the reasons I started working for the newspaper at such a young age was because it helped my family have extra money at that time,” Hartman wrote in his column published in Sunday's editions of the newspaper he began selling on downtown Minneapolis street corners at age 9.
These days, personal nurses are by his side as he makes more limited appearances at games and events. He needs a walker or a wheelchair to get around. Hearing is hard, and his speech is halting and slurred. An iPhone has replaced his oversized, old-fashioned tape recorder.
Nonetheless, Hartman conducts interviews and composes commentary for three columns per week — four during football season — in addition to the radio airtime. Star Tribune copy editor Jeff Day tirelessly handles the transcription and dictation, but make no mistake — the perspective is clearly Hartman's. He remains acutely aware of the salary-cap challenge the Vikings are facing and the sinking attendance of the Timberwolves as well as the upward trajectory of the Gophers football program and the power-hitting potential of the Twins.
As the postponements and cancellations piled up this week, Hartman reflected in Friday's print editions on his first published column in the paper — on Sept. 11, 1945, a little more than a week after the end of World War II.
“And while there may not be a comparison in terms of the war and this health scare, the fact is that during the war years sports proved to be a key factor in keeping people together and bringing the country back,” Hartman wrote, later adding: “When games are played again, it will bring a lot of comfort to teams and fans.”
In an age when the lines between the sporting press and local establishments were more blurred, Hartman helped broker a $15,000 purchase in 1947 of the franchise that became the Minneapolis Lakers and eventually joined the NBA. Hartman became the de facto general manager. The Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960 after a dynastic run of five championships, mostly with a sports writer making personnel decisions and handling contract negotiations.
“In those days the sports editors allowed every staff member to do public relations for some kind of a sport, whether it be professional wrestling, basketball, boxing or anything like that,” Hartman wrote. “You could never do that now at the Star Tribune or any other newspaper. Nobody would even think of it. But in those days it was allowed and even encouraged. Back then sportswriters didn’t make a lot of money, so having a side PR job was allowed for years. No doubt there was conflict of interest in all of these moves. But the paper encouraged it, because they were so eager to make this a major league city and felt that I could be a help because of my contacts.”
So on went this most unusual career of the son of Russian and Latvian immigrants, who dropped out of Minneapolis North High School in 1936 to work in the circulation department at the Minneapolis Tribune and has stayed in the news business ever since.
He was inducted in 2003 into the media wing of the Basketball Hall of Fame, receiving the Curt Gowdy Award. In 2010, a statue of him was unveiled outside Target Center, where the Timberwolves play. The Star Tribune counted 21,149 bylines of his.
“I have followed the advice that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life,” Hartman wrote in his column on Sunday. “Even at 100 I can say I still love what I do.”