Remembering Legendary Minneapolis Sports Personality Sid Hartman

Sid Hartman was a poor Jewish kid from the old North Side of Minneapolis who became one of the most recognized sports journalists in the United States. He died at the age of 100 on Sunday, Oct. 18. The last of 21,235 bylined stories in the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran on Sunday morning, and was the 119th column of the year, per the paper.

His influence, though, radiated far from his newspaper franchise.

Sid – “Sidney” as he was known to Bobby Knight” – helped build the Ben Berger/Morris Chalfan/Max Winter Minneapolis Lakers with George Mikan (one of the first dominant post players; Vern Mikkelsen (perhaps the first power forward) and Bud Grant (near the beginning of their 70-year friendship)into the NBA’s first dynasty. As ESPN’s J.A. Adande tweeted: “Sid Hartman covered Karl-Anthony Towns…and he also covered George Mikan…”

He was the human LinkedIn of first Minnesota sports and then the mega-empire which became the American sports scene with the rise of television and such spectacles of the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four – where he inevitably held court, according to all reports. He was present at the creation – and its aftermath.

Sid Hartman’s tapestry; his canvas; his metier; his muse was the long vertical space on page 3 – flush left – of the StarTribune sports section. His Pointillism came in black and white: The boldfaced names of the sports figures who were referenced in his columns or as his WCCO radio’s Sports Hero designation.

Before there was hyper-linking and time-deepening each of those amalgamations of black 1-pica letters represented a relationship/friendship which Sid carefully cultivated over the decades – he was a study in endless history.

There are thousands of stories in this vein. One example: After recording his 3000th hit in September 1974, Detroit Tiger Hall of Famer Al Kaline gave one of his handful of immediate post-game interviews to Sid. According to StarTribune columnist Pat Reusse he broke the news of the retirement of Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian in his column. Everybody took his calls. You wanted your voice recorded on his cassette tapes.

Nobody gave anything to Sid as he got started in life. He peddled newspapers on the streets of 1930s Minneapolis for the Morning and Evening Tribune at 6th and Nicollet as Sid related in his column of June 14, 2010, on the occasion of his 90th birthday – celebrated at Oak Ridge Country Club.

It was a tough town for Jews like most of the country during the Depression and during World War ll – when Roper polling showed that 25% of Americans would have favored an “action” against American Jews in the early 1940s.

Sometimes newspapers; sports and sports journalism provided an opening for Jews.

The University of Minnesota and especially its football and basketball teams were Sid’s beloveds.

When Sid began his reporting and writing career in 1945 Bernie Bierman was returning to the University after the Marine Corps (he coached the Iowa Pre-flight Seahawks football team). Gopher football had penetrated American sports consciousness with five consensus national championships between 1934-1941. People expected more of the same.

The program had a bit of a Jewish influence. An early Gopher football hero of the Coach Dr. Henry L. Williams era was Sig Harris. He became a longtime assistant coach for Bierman. Leonard “Butch” Levy was an All-Big Ten anchor of the line for the combined 16-0 mighty teams of 1940 and 1941.

No one will ever know but perhaps a little of this Jewish stardust encouraged people like Minneapolis newspaper sports luminaries like Dick CollumGeorge Barton and Charley Johnson to give Sid a chance – after landsmen such as Joe Katzman and Maurice Kroman (my hunch) working in circulation at the Tribune helped open the door for an inexhaustible Jewish young man who would make the. proud. (Again see the June 14, 2010 StarTribune column). Maybe that’s the reason Sid always mentioned the female and male winners of the Mercury Award.

The Collum, Barton and Johnson assessment of Sid proved astute beyond their sports realm. The Cowles family through the Minneapolis Star and their later purchase of the Tribune were visionaries and major players in the ascendency of the Twin Cities, Minnesota and the Upper Midwest after World War II.

Making us “Big League” by bringing professional sports to St. Paul and Minneapolis under the name of Minnesota was no small part of the effort. As detailed in many of Sid’s columns over the years, he assisted in bringing the Senators from Washington, D.C., to become the Minnesota Twins and helping to leverage the AFL’s deep interest in Minnesota into the NFL Minnesota Vikings (a team with a strong Scandinavian and Jewish soul from Max Winter to the Wilf family.) Again, Sid was present at the creation.

Indeed, beyond his sports universe of seemingly many astronomical units, there is also a place for Sid among all the mid-century modern developments and beyond which worked in tandem with “Big League” and which catapulted Minnesota and Gov. Wendell Anderson onto the cover of Time in the summer of 1973: investment in downtown Minneapolis by the first families of the community; pioneering medical procedures at the university; the trajectory of Minnesota’s companies that became Fortune 500; the cultural icons of the Walker and Guthrie; and perhaps in the decision of Gopher football coach Murray Warmath – with the encouragement and assistance of Tribune journalist Carl Rowan and Sen. Hubert Humphrey – to recruit African Americans to the football program. One of whom, Sandy Stephens, became the first African American All America as he quarterbacked Minnesota to its 1960 National Championship.

As with the Jewish women and men of the Greatest Generation in World War ll; the professionals who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s; the builders of iconic businesses; elected and public officials and, of course, in Sid’s case – journalism – he helped emancipate the Jewish community and facilitate the opportunities we have today.

My dear friend Gregg Litman – a WCCO-TV sports producer for many years – writes: “Sid was a legend and an inspiration. Growing up in St. Louis Park, his column was the first thing I read every morning and it certainly sparked my passion for sports. He truly proved that hard work was all you needed to get the stories, and boy did he get them! His network stretch from coast to coast and extended far beyond the stadiums and press boxes.”

For Gopher football, Sid’s domain included the press boxes at Memorial Stadium, the Metrodome and TCF Bank Stadium and all of the Big Ten Stadiums. It is said while his health allowed, Sid never missed a Gopher football practice. It is righteous, I suppose, that in the last Gopher football season of his life, Minnesota began its hopeful return to national prominence by finishing 10th in the country and winning Sid’s last game by upsetting Auburn with Tyler Johnson of his alma mater, Minneapolis North, playing a brilliant game.

All these years later, Sid will be able to say to Bernie, Sig and Butch upon meeting them again – I helped “get the boys back on track.” May his memory be for a blessing.