Legendary Minnesota sports journalist Sid Hartman dies at age 100

Longtime Star Tribune sports columnist and radio personality Sid Hartman
Longtime Minneapolis Star Tribune sports columnist and radio personality Sid Hartman looks on prior to an NBA basketball game in Minneapolis in March 2011. Hartman died at age 100, his family announced Sunday.
Jim Mone | AP 2011

Updated: 7:30 p.m.

Sid Hartman, who chronicled Minnesota sports for decades for the Star Tribune and WCCO radio, has died at age 100.

Hartman's son, Chad, tweeted Sunday afternoon that "my father’s extraordinary and resilient life has come to a peaceful conclusion surrounded by his family."

“It's a sad day,” Star Tribune sports editor Chris Carr told The Associated Press. “He is the Star Tribune in many ways, at least in the sports department. It speaks to his amazing life that even and 100 and a half years old, he passes away and we still can't believe it.”

He kept up his age-defying pace even after his 100th birthday party on March 15 was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Hartman continued to write three columns per week for the Star Tribune as a centenarian, four during football season, and served as co-host of a Sunday morning radio show on WCCO-AM.

A tribute to longtime sports journalist Sid Hartman
A tribute to longtime sports journalist Sid Hartman is displayed on a video board outside U.S. Bank Stadium after the game between the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in Minneapolis. News of Hartman's passing broke during the course of the game.
Stephen Maturen | Getty Images

Minnesota Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf issued a statement saying "our hearts are broken with the news of Sid Hartman’s passing.

“It is nearly impossible to put into words what Sid meant to the sports world and to Minnesota. He was an iconic sports figure, a tenacious reporter and a tireless advocate for his beloved state,” they wrote. “His doggedness and work ethic were unmatched, but it was Sid’s ability to nurture relationships that truly set him apart. He was a confidant and a loyal friend to countless athletes and coaches across the country."

Journalist Larry Fitzgerald on Sid Hartman
by Cathy Wurzer

"Sid was truly a one-of-a-kind personality, and his constant presence at the ballpark — which spanned the press boxes and clubhouses of Metropolitan Stadium, the Metrodome and Target Field — will be missed by so many," the Minnesota Twins organization said in a statement. "His endless drive to share sports stories across our region was unmatched, as was the deep trust he endeared in athletes, coaches, management and the public alike. This enviable combination, along with a work ethic, competitiveness and resilience that never wavered, allowed Sid to gather and report stories that no one else could have captured. ...

"Sid will be missed, but he will certainly never be forgotten. Sid Hartman was, is, and always will be Minnesota sports."

‘If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life’

Hartman's first column in the newspaper was published on Sept. 11, 1945, a little more than a week after the end of World War II — and he kept writing for more than 75 years. He had a column on the Vikings in Sunday's Star Tribune.

“I have followed the advice that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life,” Hartman wrote in a column in March as he celebrated his 100th birthday. “Even at 100 I can say I still love what I do.”

Hartman grew up poor on Minneapolis’ north side, the son of a Russian immigrant father and Latvian mother who at age 9 began selling newspapers on downtown street corners. He dropped out of high school in the 10th grade for a news run, picking up papers and leaving them in drop boxes.

In 1944, the circulation manager recommended Hartman for an internship on the sports desk at the old Minneapolis Times. A year later, he was in print with a roundup of news and notes, a style he continued throughout his career. Hartman always called himself a reporter, not a writer. After the Times folded in 1948, Hartman went to work at the Minneapolis Tribune covering his beloved University of Minnesota.

Former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant recalled attending the university after World War II and running into Hartman on Hartman’s first day as a beat writer. Grant and his wife became friends with Hartman, and when Grant announced his first retirement as Vikings coach in 1984, he shared the scoop only with Hartman.

“They’d say ‘off-the-record,’ and to Sid that was off the record. He never broke a confidence, with anybody I ever knew,” Grant once said.

Hartman was an unapologetic throwback to the days when the wall between sportswriters and the teams and players they covered was not as defined. Colleagues referred to “Sid’s Rules,” which applied to Hartman and no one else. “It was kind of the Wild West, and Sid was the top gunfighter,” said Dave Mona, Hartman’s “Sports Huddle” co-host since the WCCO-AM radio program debuted in 1981.

Often because of the favorable coverage he gave to local sports teams, Hartman was granted unparalleled behind-the-scenes access to players, coaches and executives. He was given free rein to roam where he wanted, when he wanted.

Hartman was instrumental in helping lure pro teams to Minnesota. In his autobiography “Sid!” (co-written with fellow Star Tribune sports columnist Patrick Reusse), Hartman wrote that in 1947 he offered $15,000 to the owner of the Detroit Gems of the National Basketball League for the franchise, then went to Detroit to deliver the check. The team became the Minneapolis Lakers, and Hartman was the de facto general manager. Led by big man George Mikan, the Lakers won the NBL championship in their first season and five NBA championships. Hartman left the Lakers operation in 1957, and the team moved to Los Angeles in 1960.

He did all that while continuing his newspaper work, a blatant conflict-of-interest by today’s standards but an accepted practice in those days.

Yet he always tried to outwork other reporters for scoops. He was a familiar sight at most games and news conferences, lugging a large, clunky, outdated tape recorder and a thick, black book stuffed with pages of phone numbers.

Hartman frequently referenced famous Minnesota and national sports figures in print as “close personal friends.” From George Steinbrenner to Bob Knight to Pete Carroll, Hartman's Rolodex has long been a who's-who of the sports world.

Asked how he scored interviews with hard-to-get athletes, Hartman told MPR’s Cathy Wurzer in 2009 that “I just either knew somebody who was the subject of the interview, or I knew somebody that knew them. For instance, (sports journalist) Howard Cosell was a good friend of mine and he had some good contacts. He knew the great quarterback for the Jets, Joe Namath, and he helped me get him, and he also knew Muhammad Ali and I was able to get him after a couple of fights, so that's the way it worked. I've got a lot of phone numbers over the years.”

All smiles
Sid Hartman (left) with his "close personal friend," former Gophers football coach Lou Holtz, in an undated photo.
Courtesy of the Star Tribune

Hartman’s distinctive gruff, slurred speech and malaprops made him a favorite of listeners, media colleagues and the players and coaches he covered to imitate. On the radio, Hartman would sometime hang up on or chastise callers — “geniuses,” as Hartman called them — who voiced opinions he disagreed with. Despite his reputation as a curmudgeon, Hartman was routinely approached by fans for autographs and always obliged them.

He was inducted in 2003 into the media wing of the Basketball Hall of Fame, receiving the Curt Gowdy Award. In 2010, to mark his 90th birthday, a statue showing Hartman holding a radio microphone, carrying an oversized tape recorder and with a Star Tribune tucked under his arm was unveiled on a corner outside Target Center, the home of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves.

“Part of my job was to bring him into the ’80s. Sometimes he came fairly easily and sometimes he didn’t,” said former Star Tribune editor Tim McGuire. “He always was too much of a booster, and he loved his Gophers. But he was always a newsman.”

Hartman also was a frequent critic of women’s athletics, which he thought cut into expenditures for men’s sports at University of Minnesota. “It’s archaic,” former Star Tribune sports editor Glen Crevier said of Hartman’s attitude in 2009, “but at least he doesn’t write negatively about them anymore. He just avoids them.”

Hartman’s son, Chad, followed his father into sports reporting, as play-by-play announcer for the Timberwolves and a local talk show host.

In a 2009 interview with MPR News, Sid Hartman talked about his success in journalism despite having no formal training as a reporter.

“One thing I've done, if some guy gave me an interview … I'd write him a letter and thank him for it — and I think that made a hit with those guys because not many people do that. (Other journalists) just assume these athletes owe something to the reporter,” Hartman recalled. “I think that's helped me a great deal.”

When his 100th birthday column was published, the Star Tribune put his career byline count at 21,149.

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