For quite some time, the purchase of the Iowa Cubs by Diamond Baseball Holdings, a global sports and entertainment company, has been in the works. When the deal finally went through, now-former team owner Michael Gartner, called his employees to the stadium at Principal Park to discuss changes and hand out their new business cards.
It was an uncertain time among the 23 employees. Some have been with the team for two years, others for 35. Finding out one’s company is in the process of being purchased can raise concerns. Michael Gartner wanted to make that transition a little easier.
After the owner of 22 years gave his heartfelt farewell speech, he handed each employee an envelope—only it wasn’t business cards that was enclosed. It was a check worth $2,000 for every year each employee had been with the team.
Michael Gartner with his team. Credit: Iowa Cubs.
“My jaw dropped,” Alex Cohen, the team’s radio broadcaster since 2018, says. “It’s an industry where you work really hard, and sometimes you don’t get compensated like that.”
Everyone, from maintenance staff, to the accounting, to the marketing team, received one of these checks. Cohen describes the gesture as “life-changing,” especially for those who had been with the team for two, three decades. For these employees, the checks accumulated to tens of thousands of dollars—a whopping $70,000 for the most senior employee. Money like that can pay off debts, mortgages, college payments, and even set one up for retirement.
“Seeing all the people who had been there for two decades, three decades, tears streaming down their faces, it was a very special, emotional day,” Cohen says.
Scott Sailor, who has been with the team for 23 years in media relations, says this gesture is not out of the ordinary for Michael Gartner. It is simply an amplified expression of his kindness. He has always been a hand-on owner who genuinely strove to create a family-friendly environment and connected with his staff. General manager Scott Bernabe says he was “infamous” for saying “Let’s do the right thing.”
“The right thing” was about more than generous retirement and healthcare plans. It was about more than good personal or vacation time. It was about helping his people when they needed him. In 2020, when minor league baseball shut down due to the pandemic, Gartner insisted that they not let a single person go. He kept all his full-time employees on with benefits, even when they couldn’t work.
“We’ve had above-standard health insurance and 401(k) contributions, and we’ve always been the organization that people looked at and said, ‘Gee, I wish everybody did that,’” Randy Wehofer, the team’s VP and assistant general manager says. “That’s always been [Gartner’s] way, as long as I’ve been part of the organization.”
One of the Iowa Cubs’ workers. Credit: Kelsey Kremer
People like Dustin Halderson, a stadium operations manager who is getting married in two months, says his $16,000 check gives him and his spouse “some stability.” Scott Sailor was able to not only save money for himself, but to give his family an additional Christmas surprise.
“It was nice to feel good about the work I put in, and that they recognized it,” Halderson says. “The bonus was unexpected and just so nice.”
To Michael Gartner, there was no other option. Sharing the proceeds of the sale was simply the “right thing to do,” as they are the people who need the money far more than he does. With years of employment, he gets to know all the staff and their families, and he wants them to be able to be comfortable doing a job they enjoy.
“A lot of those people have worked for us for over 20 years, and they’ve helped us build a successful team,” Gartner says. “They’re just fantastic people.”
To the Iowa Cubs’ employees, the expression of gratitude was the best end to the year they could have, and a send-off for their employer that they will never forget.
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