The Collectible Columnist  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   November 2001

The Collectible Columnist   

Sid Hartman, longtime sports columnist for Minneapolis' Star Tribune, is now a bobblehead doll.

By Burl Gilyard
Gilyard is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer. He is a former staff writer for two Minnesota alt-weeklies, the Twin Cities Reader and City Pages.     

How does a sportswriter achieve immortality? By becoming a household name among local readers? By publishing a name-dropping autobiography, chock full of "close personal friends"? By having his image featured on a bobblehead doll? Sid Hartman, a sports columnist for Minneapolis' Star Tribune, has done all three.

Bobblehead dolls--figurines with a head on springs--featuring pro athletes are once again the rage in sports promotions and collectibles. In August, the Star Tribune produced a twist on the trend: a bobblehead doll of a journalist. The limited edition of 5,000 Hartman dolls, which depict Hartman holding a notebook in one hand and a hot dog in the other, sold out in just four days at $12 a pop at the Minnesota State Fair. Some of the figures were also sold at the newspaper's retail store.

"There was so much excitement and mania around bobbleheads, it just seemed like a great opportunity to showcase our own sports icon," says Roberta Lind Worrell, director of consumer marketing at the Star Tribune. Hartman fans made offers of up to $200 for the dolls at the state fair, Lind Worrell says. "But by that time they were gone."

The popularity of the dolls reflects Hartman's venerable status in the Twin Cities. He began working for the long-defunct Minneapolis Times in 1944 as an intern on the sports desk and wrote his first column in 1946. Two years later, when the Times shut down, he joined the Minneapolis Morning Tribune. He's been a fixture on local radio for decades. With the aid of Star Tribune colleague Patrick Reusse, Hartman published "Sid!"--an autobiography--in 1997. Now in his 80s, Hartman still files regularly.

Hartman professes that he had to be talked into the bobblehead idea. "I'll be honest with you, at first I was against it," he says. But Hartman says he's honored that the dolls became such a hot item. "I'm getting 20 calls a day from people who either want one or got one and want it autographed." Hartman donated his $5,000 share of the proceeds to a local hospital.

Several of the cartoon-like figures have since appeared on the online auction site eBay, where a doll can trade for several times its original price. Pat Adkins, communications consultant at the Star Tribune, says that the paper is currently developing a prototype of a second, different Hartman doll, which may be used as a circulation promotion. The Hartman knickknack represents the first bobblehead of a reporter ever produced by the Bellevue, Washington-based Alexander Global Promotions, which has cranked out many of the sports collectibles.

New York Times sports columnist Ira Berkow may have shared in a Pulitzer Prize (as a contributor to the race series that won the Times staff the national reporting honor in 2001), but so far he's been denied the immortality of bobblehead mini-statuary. Berkow recalls working in Minneapolis in the mid-'60s as a "sub-cub reporter" under then-Sports Editor Hartman. "Sid was a legend even then," he says.

Berkow jokes that in the wake of the Hartman bobblehead, sports journalism has entered a new era. "I'm trying to think. Did Ring Lardner ever have a bobblehead? Did Damon Runyon ever have a bobblehead? Did Red Smith ever have a bobblehead?" he asks. "I come up empty."

Edited by Lori Robertson



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