Celebrating Sid

There have been a lot of great journalists to come out of this town, starting with Eric Sevareid and going right on through to three guys writing for the New York Times right now: Tommy Friedman, David Carr, and Ira Berkow. But for my money, I think the best of them all is the Midwest’s number one sports personality, Sid Hartman, and I don’t care who knows it.

Sid gets a lot of grief from geniuses who think he’s not a “journalist” in the modern sense of the word. Let me tell you something, those people don’t know what they’re talking about. He may be from a different generation that didn’t care as much about “objectivity,” whatever that means. He may blur the line between what he calls his “close personal friends” and what the New York Times may call “a source.” He may even be guilty of what some pointy-headed journalism professors would call being an “actor” rather than an “observer” of local news.

But in the Snapper’s book, all that stuff is irrelevant because what Sid is most of all is a winner. Nobody has ever beaten him when it comes to what newspaper readers want most—and that is the scoops, the exclusives, the inside stories on the sports heroes in this town. I don’t care what the bleeding hearts who run the newspaper business nowadays say. They owe their paychecks to guys like Sid who get the eyeballs off the boob tube and into the newsprint.

Listen, who else can come anywhere near the number of scoops he’s had? Who first reported that legendary Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian was leaving the school? Or that Bud Grant was retiring as the best coach the Minnesota Vikings will ever have? Nobody gets the stories like Sid does, because even though he’s in his 80s, nobody outworks him. And because he’s not afraid to count athletes, politicians, businessmen, and hundreds of “little guys” as his personal friends. You treat a friend as a friend, you don’t rip them just because you can.

And that’s all a lot of these so-called modern journalists want to do: rip, rip, rip. They think it’s wrong to have friends. Let me tell you, that’s why these jerks don’t have any. Sportswriters who have gone up against Sid and have lost know better than anyone else that he’s the best. That’s why I’ve contacted some of them (I have all their home phone numbers) and persuaded them to share some of their favorite memories of the Man Himself. There’s nothing Sid hates more than a reporter getting his story from other reporters—but this story is about Sid!

Early Lessons
Sid got plenty of early lessons about the value of having friends and being loyal to them in his formative years in Depression-era Minneapolis. His childhood was a true Horatio Alger story in which he was forced to fend for himself and his family by selling newspapers on wintry street corners, desperately competing for a slice of the meager economic pie that was available to members of the Jewish immigrant clans of those days. Competition was tough for the choicest paper-hawking turf on the most lucrative corners—the winners were the ones who were the smartest and most driven.

Young Sid got obsessed with the minutiae of sports, and it would serve him well later in life. Among the main reasons for Sid’s success were the connections he made and carefully maintained as a young man, not only with his North Side neighborhood chums but with people he met in that gray area, shunned by the city’s “respectable” pre-war WASPs, where pro athletes, bookies, reporters, organized crime figures, and politicians mixed socially. Booze and gambling is what this scene was all about. It was a great way to learn who really mattered in a small town like Minneapolis.

Has All the Phone Numbers
As anyone who has ever worked with Sid knows, the secret to his success is his little black book of contacts. No one has ever compiled a greater sports reference tool than Sid’s collection of names and phone numbers, which he has painstakingly amassed over the years. Anyone who wants to go up against Sid must take this into account.

Just how powerful is this weapon? I asked Bill Peterson. Peterson is a St. Paul Park native who started at the Star Tribune as an “agate clerk” in the mid-1980s and later went on to his own sports-writing career at the Cincinnati Post. An agate clerk is a guy who collects all the high school sports scores that get printed in tiny, or agate, type on the sports pages—meaning Peterson was a nobody. He says this enabled him to avoid the newsroom conflicts that so-called “real sports writers” had with Sid. Those bozos thought Sid was too close to his sources.

“Back then, there were some serious power struggles between Sid and guys like Jay Weiner, but Sid kind of liked me,” Peterson says. “He pulled me into his office one day and asked me to do him a favor. He says, ‘Go through my files and throw out anything more than a few years old.’ So I had the full run of his files. I was just amazed. Sid had complete in-season and off-season lists of the addresses and phone numbers for everybody on every team in every league, NHL, NBA, whatever. He had all this stuff. I came to learn not long after that, in Cincy, just how valuable that info is. Nobody else has all that stuff. He got updated lists every year.”

How’d he do that? “Say the Kansas City Chiefs were coming to town to play the Vikings. Sid would take the key Chiefs players and coaches out to lunch before the game, and then send each of them a personalized letter afterwards. In the letters he’d say everything they did was first class. He was extremely good at cultivating and maintaining sources this way. The old slogan about Sid is that he always gets his man, he always did because he had those numbers.”

Listen, the nit-wits out there who say Sid doesn’t really have all these personal friends don’t know anything. He’s got more friends than all the other sports writers in this town put together. Big shots return his calls all the time not only because they know he gets the story right, but because Sid knows the names of their kids. If some of these know-it-all writers we’ve got now would take a minute to get to know the athletes as people instead of always ripping them, then maybe when the star receiver gets arrested on some trumped-up charge they’ll get the scoop.

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