Sid Hartman would talk to anyone, but those in positions of authority got special attention, whether deserved or not.
The business news desk at the old Star Tribune building bordered Sid’s office, and after I became the section’s editor he often stopped by with tips.
“You need to do a story on Glen Taylor’s chickens,” he said more than once, referring to the poultry operations of the businessman who now owns the Star Tribune. “Those chickens lay more eggs than anybody else’s chickens.” I always asked if they were golden, but Sid didn’t seem to get the joke.
Sid had real estate tips, too, often about downtown Minneapolis projects already under construction. He sometimes referred to condominiums as “condoms” — some of the biggest ever are going up, he’d add.
The thought of a reporter taking more than a day to write a story bothered the uniquely prolific sports columnist, who died Sunday after a century on earth. “You should get a scoreboard,” he’d say. “Put all of their names up there and how many stories they’ve written.”
I was the Star Tribune’s managing editor when I got the news that my mother had died in Wisconsin after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. That night Sid was being inducted into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame, and I had committed to representing the paper at the dinner. With heavy hearts, my wife and I decided we needed to show up for Sid, vowing not to let our news spoil his night.
A few days later Sid found out — not much got past him, back then or last week — and our relationship grew stronger. We had our run-ins — every editor who ever worked with Sid had them — and I still have a file labeled “Sid’s apologies.”
But there are more warmer memories. Knowing that I was a Green Bay fan with two young sons, one day Sid showed up at my office door with a football, tossing it to me while saying proudly that it had been signed by Brett Favre. I didn’t look at the ball before stuffing it into a gym bag, a little embarrassed but knowing Sid wouldn’t understand if I refused the gift. When I got home, I realized the ball had actually been signed by a Packers tight end named Bubba Franks.
In 2004, I planned to meet my brother at a Wisconsin-Minnesota game in Madison. Our sports editor at the time, Glen Crevier, suggested that I spend some time in the press box with the Star Tribune writers. I got there about an hour before kickoff, while the two teams were warming up and the stands were filling.
Sid was antsy and, knowing I was a UW alumnus and fan, thought I should meet Wisconsin Coach Barry Alvarez. “That’d be great,” I said, “but he’s down there with his team.”
With that, Sid was out of his chair, leading me toward an elevator in a stadium he knew well after decades of covering Big Ten football. In a couple of minutes, Sid was storming past a befuddled security guy and heading toward midfield, with me equally stunned and a few steps behind.
Alvarez had his arms crossed and game face on while surveying his team, but he smiled broadly and shouted “Sidney!” as we approached. A number of Wisconsin’s assistant coaches also knew Sid, and he made the rounds to shake hands.
Sid then led me to the Minnesota side of the field, where Gophers players were stretching. None of them seemed surprised to see Sid, then a spry 84, wandering through their pregame warmup. This went on for far too long. Fearing the game would start with us still on the field, I finally got Sid to agree to go back to the press box.
A few years later, my career took an unexpected turn when I lost out on a job I had competed for, and Sid was the first person in my office after the announcement to provide encouragement. A cancer diagnosis would follow for me, and I became one of many co-workers Sid offered to drive to Mayo over the years to see a doctor he would select. I went to Mayo, but not with Sid.
Eventually I moved to Star Tribune Opinion — a department separate from the newsroom — and saw less of our senior columnist. He had his own health challenges, of course, and his 100th birthday came in the early months of COVID-19 as the world retreated but he kept on writing.
I’m fortunate my sons got a chance to meet Sid and learn about his work ethic. I’ll always remember him calling my wife my “lovely bride” on WCCO Radio. I wish I would have had one last conversation with him and heard one more story.
Sid often told me — without arrogance, just matter-of-factly — that no one had done more for the Star Tribune than him.
He was right.
Scott Gillespie is editorial page editor of the Star Tribune.