Departing minor league baseball owners give $600,000 made from sale of the team to employees

·4 min read

As one of his final acts before leaving as the longtime chairman and principal owner of the Iowa Cubs, Michael Gartner gathered all the team’s employees in the Betfred Sports Lounge in left field at Des Moines' Principal Park for a surprise.

Gartner and his four associates had finalized their sale of the team and brought some of the employees to the suite and the others away on vacation on a Zoom call to thank them last Tuesday. But before leaving, Gartner, who had a stack of envelops, told them all he was going to hand them out new business cards.

“Everybody kind of laughed and at that point just with his tone, we knew there was going to be more than just business cards,” Iowa Cubs broadcaster Alex Cohen said.

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The envelopes weren’t business cards. They were payroll checks. Gartner and his partners were sharing profits of the club's sale to all 23 full-time staff members of the team. Everyone was getting a check based off the number of years they worked for the team. Every employee got $2,000 for every year they had been there, even as interns.

As Gartner broke the news to them, people became overjoyed and emotional.

Iowa Cubs owner Michael Gartner speaks during a naturalization ceremony Tuesday, July 6, before a game against the St. Paul Saints at Principal Park. Twenty-five people from 15 different countries took the oath of allegiance to the United States of America and became U.S. citizens. Since the Cubs' first citizenship ceremony in 2009, more than 400 people have participated in the annual on-field event.
Iowa Cubs owner Michael Gartner speaks during a naturalization ceremony Tuesday, July 6, before a game against the St. Paul Saints at Principal Park. Twenty-five people from 15 different countries took the oath of allegiance to the United States of America and became U.S. citizens. Since the Cubs' first citizenship ceremony in 2009, more than 400 people have participated in the annual on-field event.

"It was pretty crazy," Cohen said. “People were crying and shaking,"

For many in the room and on the call, it was life-changing money. A total of $600,000 the five had made from the sale was given away to employees. The longest tenured employee received a check for $70,000.

Everyone got something from the sale.

"It's a fantastic gesture, no matter what business you're in, but to be in minor league baseball with a lot of long days, a lot of long hours and a lot of hard work, it was really nice and appreciated," said Scott Sailor, the team's former director of communications.

It was a surprising move but not entirely shocking. The 83-year-old Gartner was popular among fans and employees ever since he and a group of associates purchased the Triple-A team and top affiliate of the Chicago Cubs back in 1999. Gartner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former president of NBC News and editor of the Des Moines Register, added bleachers in right field, LED lights around the park and a fountain for kids to play in.

Gartner routinely walked around the park and carried a baseball to hand out to kids he strolled by. When the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 Minor League Baseball season, Gartner, unlike many owners across the sport, didn't lay off or furlough his staff. Instead, he kept them employed during the work stoppage so they could get by.

Turns out, that was just among his biggest gestures.

Back in early December, the team announced that Gartner and his four associates, his son, Vice Chairman Mike C. Gartner, Des Moines lawyer Mike Giudicessi, team President and General Manager Sam Bernabe and Dr. Doug Dorner had sold the team to Diamond Baseball Holdings, a subsidiary of Endeavor, the global sports and entertainment company. The sale was finalized Dec. 28. But before it was, Gartner came up with the idea to reward all the staff. He pitched the idea to Bernabe who loved it. Gartner said the other owners in his group did as well.

"None of us gave it a second thought," Michael Gartner said.

"Those people really, really could use the money. They've got mortgages. They've got little kids. Some of them probably have college debt and car payments. It helps them over humps."

Sailor said the money came at the perfect time with the holidays right around the corner. He used some of it on gifts for family members. A member of the stadium operations crew is planning a wedding for later this year.

They all have help thanks to the move that came in the meeting late in the day on Gartner's final day at the park. But Sailor, who also worked for Gartner at the Ames Tribune and the Des Moines Register, said it was a fitting final gesture for the longtime owner who went out of his way to get to know fans, employees and interns at the park throughout the season.

"It was totally within character," said Sailor. "That's the kind of guy he is. It might have surprised some of the others."

That's why Sailor took to Twitter to share the news of Gartner's grand gesture. The tweet, which generated over 1,000 likes, caught the attention of Yahoo! and The New York Times.

But the move wasn't made for attention.

"They're really nice people, good people and they deserve to share in proceeds from the sale," Gartner said.

Reach Tommy Birch at tbirch@dmreg.com or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter @TommyBirch.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa Cubs ownership group gives proceeds from team's sale to employees