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Zulgad: Sid Hartman’s love of newspapers and the newsroom proved to be contagious

Obit Hartman
FILE – In this May 18, 2014, file photo, Minneapolis Star Tribune sports columnist Sid Hartman speaks during a ceremony in which the Minnesota Twins organization honored him before a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners in Minneapolis. Hartman, an old-school home team booster who once ran the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers and achieved nearly as much celebrity as some of the athletes he covered, died Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. He was 100. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt, File)

The arrival.

Of all the things that will be recounted about Sid Hartman in the coming days, it’s the arrival that will stick with many of us who worked with him at Star Tribune.

Sid was “only” 69 years old when I started as a clerk in the sports department in 1989. For the next 14 years, I watched, listened and, at times, marveled upon witnessing that arrival countless times. Sid wrote his column in his newsroom office in the old Star Tribune building on 425 Portland Ave. The sports department — even through an extensive remodel of the newsroom in the late 1990s — was near the back of the third floor and that gave Sid plenty of time to make a commotion on his way in.

He didn’t disappoint.

Sid only had one gear and that was whirlwind. You heard him long before you saw him. Racing into the newsroom and down the long narrow path to his office while loudly saying the first thing that came to mind, using his vast array of nicknames for employees and defending the local teams if a colleague had dared to criticize a club. The nicknames were the best. My friend David Chanen wrote obituaries so he was Mr. Mortuary. Jay Ewoldt, a fellow sports copy editor, was either George Halas Jr., because he was a Bears fan, or Mr. Shirts because of his collection of colorful shirts.

Sid’s finest moment in the nickname department might have come one day when he saw one of my fellow sports clerks who was known for calling in sick more than most. Now, Sid wasn’t a guy who seemed to pay attention to this type of thing, only what made him such a good reporter was he did notice. Upon seeing her, Sid noted that Cal Ripken Jr., had made it in that day.

Sid also would arrive with both hands full. One filled with press releases, notes and telephone numbers he had accrued during his various stops at team facilities. The other hand contained his Model T tape recorder from WCCO Radio and a few (or a lot) of cassette tapes that he would toss toward a clerk to transcribe for  future use in a column. You did not want to be the clerk on duty in the early ’90s, when Sid returned from Twins’ spring training with 10 tapes that he needed someone to transcribe.

Sid could be demanding, he could drive you crazy and his bulldog ways could wear on anyone. But upon learning of his death on Sunday at the age of 100 — it’s only fitting that the news came while the Vikings were playing and on the day his column had appeared in the Star Tribune — the immediate thought was of Sid’s entrance into that newsroom. Sid could have retired years ago, his real estate dealings long ago made him a wealthy man, but he didn’t and the love of making that entrance is one reason why.

Those who love the newspaper business are a different breed and those who love to get scoops and don’t slow down are really unique. I worked with many people during my 22 years at the Star Tribune, and only a few had the business in their blood. These days the big stories usually go to the major networks, but Sid made a name for himself when the only reporters were local reporters and hard work was what resulted in getting a story.

Nobody wanted a story like Sid. Nobody.

My introduction to this came in late November 1989 when Sid called the office and was eventually transferred to me to take some late-evening dictation. I don’t recall ever seeing Sid use a computer from a remote location, so if he went to a game or had a scoop to call in, it was one of the copy aides, as we were known, who took the information. Sid began relaying the news that the Twins had signed Kirby Puckett to a three-year, $9 million, making him the first $3 million-a-year player in Major League Baseball.

I quickly learned that Sid did not appreciate having me immediately read back what he had just dictated when he grumbled, “Stop repeating this back to me!” I had always loved newspapers and reporting, but that was the one of the first moments I knew it was in my blood. My only role in Sid’s scoop was making sure it got to the copy desk in English and, yet, the moment only solidified that I was right where I belonged. Sid might have been near 70 at the time, but his enthusiasm at having gotten the scoop on Puckett made him sound half that age.

It also was around that time that we would discuss if Sid would soon retire. Ha. By the late 1990s, we all agreed he might outlive us all. We were only half-joking and that’s why it took me time to actually process on Sunday that he had passed.

Years later after taking dictation on the Puckett story, I spent time serving as the primary copy editor for Sid’s Page 3 (Page 2 on Sundays) column. Any discussion of my role at the Star Tribune, always included these two questions: 1) Do you know Sid? 2) Does he really write his column?

I think there was disappointment when my answer to the second question was “yes.” Sid was well into his 70s by this point — might have been pushing 80 — but that hurricane-like entrance into the newsroom was followed by him sitting at his keyboard and pounding out his column, complete with jottings, and then often going to a game. (Full disclosure: We all helped with jottings at times but not the main column.)

Here’s what people didn’t understand. Sid had a style that was all Sid and although his copy had to be cleaned up and countless names had to be spelled correctly (research wasn’t as easy before Google), the most important thing was to keep Sid’s column in his voice so that if you read it aloud it would be as if you were listening to him.

It was an unmistakable voice. Especially for those of us who got to hear it upon his arrival in the newsroom for all of those years.