Last Wednesday Sid Hartman cried. Well, actually it was earlier in the week, but the inimitable Star Tribune sports columnist's piece about the outburst, brought on by the looming loss of the hometown baseball franchise--and, more specifically, a tête-à-tête with Twins owner Carl Pohlad--was published on Wednesday. "I left the meeting with tears in my eyes because for the first time I believed major league baseball is gone
from this state unless somebody can change Pohlad's mind," Hartman wrote. "I was so shaken by the result of the meeting that the parking-lot attendant asked me what was wrong."
Was this, we wondered, a first? Had Sid Hartman ever confessed in print to weeping? And if so, what makes Sid Hartman cry?
Thanks to the Nexis news database, we now have an idea. Though we couldn't survey Hartman's entire five-and-a-half-decade newsmongering career, we were able to search his oeuvre as far back as Nexis reaches (September 1991 in the Strib's case) for the terms cry, weep, tear, and break down in their various permutations. After eliminating the chaff--rotator cuff tears and the like--we were left with 22 tearstained columns. (In addition, one piece brought a subject close to tears, while three others led the writer to observe that someone "didn't shed any tears," or something similar.)
Hartman has borne witness to his share of life's sad moments. Not surprisingly, the archive features several references to the intersection of sports and mortality. In all, death brought folks to tears in nine Hartman columns over the past decade. But perhaps tellingly, on none of those occasions did the writer make clear whether he personally shed any.
Retirements, resignations, firings, and other less-final departures also tended to open the sluice gates, as when the state's National Hockey League franchise lit out for Dallas in 1993. "You can be sure there will be tears among hockey fans tonight when the North Stars play the Chicago Blackhawks and close out a 26-year era at Met Center," Hartman wrote. When University of Minnesota Gophers men's athletic director Mark Dienhart was forced out in the wake of the 1999 cheating scandal, readers learned that "[m]any of the people who work for Dienhart were in or near tears Friday morning when he walked into the club room at Williams Arena for his news conference." And upon Kirby Puckett's retirement in 1996: "There were tears shed among some of the veterans who had watched the great Kirby not only lead on the field, but also in the clubhouse, where he was loved by everybody."
Then there were the less frequent, but still highly emotional, cathartic sports moments. An example from 1999: "There were a lot of tears in the Vikings locker room after Sunday's 30-27 overtime loss to Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game at the Metrodome," which left wide receiver Cris Carter "sobbing as he walked up the runway to the locker room after the defeat." (Evidently Hartman is partial to the "a lot of tears" construction, which cropped up six times in our search.) At the other end of the emotional spectrum was this eye-moistener from 1994: "Sammy Casalenda, the assistant equipment manager, closed the door to the Vikings' tiny Metrodome equipment room Thursday night so an exhausted Warren Moon and Jack Del Rio could embrace and cry in private after the Vikings edged the Bears 33-27 in overtime."
But Hartman himself is a stoic. Though he bears witness to the suffering of others, he seldom shows his own vulnerable side. In fact, not counting last week's emotional outburst, we found only three instances where Sid Hartman cried.
One was just a passing reference--one that under other circumstances we'd probably have overlooked. In a January 1994 reminiscence inspired by former Vikings head coach Bud Grant's election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Hartman wrote of his attachment to the Gophers gridiron squads of the late 1940s: "I was a young, rookie newspaperman who was scared of coach Bernie Bierman. I would hang around the dressing room and run for cover when Bierman appeared....I have to admit I was a big cheerleader for that team. I celebrated when they won and cried with them when they lost."
The second instance dates to February 1997, when Hartman extolled the basketball work ethic of Gophers center John Thomas, who'd just helped his teammates pull out a squeaker against the University of Illinois en route to a trip to the Final Four: "This will sound corny to a lot of people, but I admit I shed a tear when Thomas stepped up and made both free throws."
Most moving of all were the events that led to the July 1994 column chronicling Bud Grant's induction into the Hall of Fame. Hartman, a personal friend of the coach, introduced Grant, who also wept. "Well, in the middle of his speech, it happened," the columnist recounted. "'Mr. Stoneface,' as he has been called by the media, showed he was human. That's something his friends knew all the time. Yes, he broke down and the tears rolled down his cheeks. Even the sunglasses he was wearing couldn't hide the tears as he pulled out his red handkerchief to take care of the situation." Toward the end of the piece, Hartman confessed that "[w]hen he got up in front of this giant Hall of Fame crowd after my introduction and said, 'This is a great day for Sid and I. We have come a long way,' I had to reach for my handkerchief, too."