Ask the Sportswriters

Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times  editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.

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•Question:  Minneapolis Star Tribune sports columnist/WCCO Radio sports personality Sid Hartman celebrates his 93rd birthday March 15. Hartman, a high school dropout, has been writing since 1945. His columns still appear regularly and he’s on WCCO several times a week. His Sunday morning talk show with sidekick Dave Mona remains a Sunday morning staple for many and he’s also part of a weekly television sports roundtable program.. He was general manager of the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1950s and is credited with building that team into a powerhouse. His “close personal friend” list is lengthy and impressive. What are your thoughts on Hartman?

-Dorr: He’s the world’s all-time “homer” when it comes to all things Minnesota. Because of that he has rarely criticized coaches, managers and owners of those teams, even if they deserve it. That makes him not very relevant on some issues, even if he does have inside information. But you’ve got to give him credit for doing what he does at his age – not many that age, if any, could do what he does, including being on the radio five days a week at 6:40 a.m. His column is an information column more than an opinion column and I look forward to reading his jottings. In fact, I go to that part of his column before reading the rest, or sometimes skipping the rest if it’s just in praise of someone. He’s an old-time guy, the likes of which we probably won’t see again at a major daily newspaper. He’s seen and done a lot of things, his list of people he can contact is extensive, and he’s made quite a mark on the Twin Cities.  I’m acquainted with a guy in Dallas who is called the Sid Hartman of Dallas by some (he’s a longtime columnist and on the radio a lot) and he’s way younger than Sid. So give Sid credit – he’s an institution.

-Marxhausen: Sid Hartman has done the impossible through the years and has accomplished so much in his lifetime, including the expansion of his “close personal friend” list that entails the late George Steinbrenner, Lou Holtz and Bobby Knight. It seems that no one can be more critical than Hartman and he seems to be the first to publicly note that a coach could be fired. Steve Rushin once wrote that “English sometimes appears to be his (Hartman’s) second language” in a Sports Illustrated article. Hartman has been a part of and lived to see the Minneapolis Lakers move to Los Angeles, the Twins changing ballparks three times as well as the Minneapolis Star and Minneapolis Tribune combining. In his own right, he is a historical landmark.

-Larson:  I began reading sports columnists in the mid to late 1950s. The first were Jim Dziuk of the Benton County News and Sid Hartman and Dick Cullum of the Minneapolis papers. A short time later Don Riley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch and Jim Klobuchar of the Minneapolis Star also became favorites of mine. Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s Dziuk wrote about the powerful Foley basketball teams led by the great Norm Grow, who held Minnesota single game and career scoring records that went unbroken for many, many years. Grow, incidentally, died a couple months ago.

Over the years I haven’t missed many Hartman columns. I recall that years ago he wrote a column nearly every day. His columns have been informative and his list of contacts in the sports world may be the most extensive of any columnist in the country. Over the past 12-13 years Charlie Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has caught and passed Sid in tracking down sports news and tidbits. But, Hartman still does a good job and it’s one of the first things I look for in the Star Tribune.

That said, Hartman ranks No. 2, just behind a former University of Minnesota/Minnesota Timberwolves basketball coach on my list of jerks that I’ve dealt with in my 40-plus years of sports reporting. He’s abrasive, quick tempered and highly conceited. When you rarely criticize sports figures, you’re going to have a long list of “close personal friends.”  A couple weeks ago on his Sunday morning talk show Hartman called the Michigan men’s basketball coach a jerk. Translated, that probably meant the coach hadn’t returned a call. If a Minnesota prep athlete chooses not to attend the University of Minnesota, that player better not slip up or have a bad game or season. If he does, Sid will surely point that out. When Minnesota teams are doing poorly Hartman will point out other teams that are doing just as poorly. Sid is a character and the Minnesota sports scene wouldn’t be the same without him.

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•Question:  Many University of Minnesota men’s basketball fans are unhappy with the job coach Tubby Smith is doing. And, some Gopher women’s basketball followers are upset with coach Pam Borton whose team was bounced out of the Big Ten tournament in the first round last week. The women just ended their fourth-straight losing season in the Big Ten and may not make the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year. Last week it was reported that Borton received a two-year extension on her contract last summer from outgoing athletic director Joel Maturi. That decision was not brought to the public’s attention until Twins Cities media reported it last week. What are your thoughts on Borton and the women’s basketball program?

-Dorr: I haven’t been too impressed with Borton, one reason being the way that she handled the playing time of Princeton’s Katie Loberg, a senior who was a starter as a sophomore and junior. Borton gave Loberg only 11 minutes a game this year, even in games where the person ahead of Loberg was playing poorly. In a late-season win, Borton was forced to play Loberg and the starting center together, because of foul trouble, and they did well, completely shutting off the other team’s inside game. I wondered all season why Borton didn’t try them together.  And I thought some of Borton’s substitution patterns were strange. But then, she gets the big money (more than we knew) and I don’t. One nice related item from last fall: When the annual preseason Big Ten basketball media day was held in Chicago, there was a representative from each men’s and women’s team. Loberg and Jared Berggren of Wisconsin, both of Princeton, were their team’s representatives. Another nugget: Loberg has earned an internship with KARE-TV that will begin soon.

-Marxhausen: Overall, as the Gopher women’s basketball coach since taking over for Brenda Frese in 2002, she has done numerous positive things to help the program as well as posting a 156-90 record at Minnesota. But Borton has not led the team back to the NCAA tournament since 2008-09. She doesn’t have a Lindsey Whalen or Janel McCarville to lead her team back into the NCAA tournament and she has been struggling to compete in the Big Ten. The fact that it was last June when the deal was done and not until March when it was reported to the public does not bode well. She will be watched with more scrutiny and many will be asking for her early departure if the program doesn’t improve.

-Larson:  The decision to extend Borton’s contract was one of many misguided moves by Maturi. Attendance at Gopher women’s games has steadily dropped and it’s been reported the program is losing big money. In-state recruiting hasn’t been impressive, with Borton and the Gophers losing out on Braham’s Rebekah Dahlman (Vanderbilt), Hopkins Nia Coffee (Northwestern) and Esko’s 6-foot-9 Savanna Trapp (UCLA) this year. In a Star Tribune story last week, Borton was quoted saying, “When we start worrying about what everyone else is saying, then we’re worried about the wrong things.”  It’s time for Borton to start paying attention to a lot of things.

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Do you have an opinion on any of this week’s questions? Do you agree or disagree with the sportswriters? Let us know by sending an e-mail to editor.millelacscotimes@ecm-inc.com or a note to Mille Lacs County Times, 225 S.W. 2nd St. Milaca, MN 56353. Or comment online.

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