NBC TV Pays Tribute to Sid Hartman
Sundays have belonged to Sid Hartman for decades but this Sunday was special. The 96-year-old Minnesota media legend was featured nationally on NBC TV’s “Today Show,” just 10 days before his March 15th birthday.
Reporter Harry Smith came to Minneapolis recently to spend time with Hartman who has been writing for Minneapolis newspapers since the 1940s and been heard on WCCO Radio on Sundays since the 1950s. Minnesotans still know Hartman from his three times a week Star Tribune column (Sundays included) and radio shows.
Willie Geist, the “Today Show” anchor, said Hartman wrote his first column on September 11, 1945 “and hasn’t slowed down since.” He also said the Minneapolis native is a “sports icon who is always the biggest star in the arena.”
Smith began his story at Target Center and told the TV audience there is a statue of the great man outside the arena. “I don’t know if I am big deal,” Hartman told Smith. “I’ll be honest. I can’t walk down the street without somebody identifying me. They either hear me on the radio or read my column. This isn’t a job. It’s fun for me.”
Hartman’s longevity is amazing. He is old enough to be the great, great grandfather of athletes he is covering today. It’s a good bet when he shows up at Target Center, Williams Arena or other venues in town he is the oldest person in the building. He is certainly the oldest still earning a paycheck.
“He’s got the drive of a reporter half of his age,” Smith said. “No, make that a quarter of his age.”
What keeps Hartman going is his incredible competitiveness. “Yeah, I am tough on myself. If I miss out on a big story I am not very happy,” Hartman said.
Hartman’s son Chad told Smith that his dad is every bit as “dogged” now in pursuing news as years ago. “He wakes up every day and thinks competition is what it’s all about. That has changed zero, and that’s what keeps him sharp.”
Smith said Hartman wants to work until he is 100. He asked Hartman if he has ever thought about retiring. “No, no interest,” Hartman answered. “I would go crazy. As long as I am healthy enough to do what I am doing right now, I am gonna keep on doing it.”
These days Hartman is annoyed by the walker he has to use following hip surgery. A couple months ago he fell on the ice outside his home and broke his hip. Initially, Hartman didn’t even realize he was badly injured. It was only after returning from an outing and trying to climb the stairs at home that he knew there was a serious problem.
Hartman was hospitalized briefly and has pushed through rehabilitation in a way most elderly people could only dream about. With the help of a nurse, it hasn’t taken Hartman that long to get back on the newspaper and radio beats. Yeah, the walker is no fun but friends say they’ve never seen anyone move around faster using that contraption.
Until 1961 Minneapolis-St. Paul didn’t have major league baseball or pro football, and it’s well documented that Hartman played a leading role in making the Twins and Vikings a reality. His leadership and ongoing interest in the well being of Minnesota’s pro franchises and the Gophers is acknowledged by Twins president Dave St. Peter.
“Sid is an absolute Minnesota treasure,” St. Peter told Sports Headliners. “He connects multiple generations. He is the greatest promoter and cheerleader Minnesota sports ever had.”
Hartman grew up on Minneapolis’ north side in the home of an alcoholic father and sickly mother. Life was serious and Hartman adopted a strong work ethic at an early age. He learned to hustle for a buck and despite no college education worked his way into the newspaper business where his iron will made him a must-read reporter.
Hartman once tracked down Jets quarterback Joe Namath in the locker room showers for an interview, and got stunned Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire on the air for an interview when he was chasing baseball’s single season home run record and not talking to other media. Countless sources can tell stories about how Hartman pursued them with phone calls at all hours of the day and night.
I first met Hartman when I was at the University of Minnesota working on my journalism degree. I was a reporter for the Minnesota Daily and wrote something about Hartman he didn’t like. He got a hold of my home phone number and gave me an earful.
Yes, Hartman’s competitiveness shows up sometimes with other reporters. For years he has had a rivalry with Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Both have made careers out of getting the news first and writing notes-focused columns. The two men have traded jabs over the years including Walters often writing that “news has reached Minneapolis” when something in his column later got reported by Hartman.
Through the years I’ve been fascinated by Hartman. As a kid I loved his column which back then was called “Sid Hartman’s Roundup” and frequently had short blurbs about commercial real estate mixed in with sports scoops, “jottings” and “they say.” I used to see this guy dressed in suits and ties, wearing alligator shoes, and buzzing around talking to everyone at a Twins or Gophers game, and thought he was pretty cool.
One of the nicest things Sid ever did for me was in 1990 after I left my marketing position with the Minnesota North Stars. “If you want to hire a great young man, you should call Dave Shama,” Hartman told listeners on WCCO Radio one morning.
I had no idea that 27 years later I would still be listening to Hartman on the radio, reading his column and competing with him for news. No wonder he has a statue.