DES MOINES, Iowa — After 22 years as chairman and principal owner of the Iowa Cubs, Michael Gartner gathered employees for one final surprise following the sale of the team.
83-year-old Gartner, his four associates and the team's 23 full-time employees met last week in Principal Park's Betfred Sports lounge after he told them he was handing out new business cards. Each employee was given an envelope, but no card was inside.
“I think the lead up to the conversation was, 'Hey, we sold the team. Here are your new business cards,'” said Iowa Cubs broadcaster Alex Cohen in an interview with WOI Local 5. "Everyone just started laughing … You could see Michael Gartner smile, then he told everybody what their plans were. You could see jaws dropping, visible shaking tears. I mean it was a combination of a lot of different emotions."
Instead, they each pulled out a payroll check, with all the bonuses combining for a total of $600,000.
According to the Des Moines Register, all employees, including the team's custodian, received a check based on the number of years they worked for the club. They all got $2,000 per year, including time spent as interns. The longest-tenured employee earned a $70,000 check.
Cohen said everyone in the room became overjoyed and emotional.
"I think it was a combination of shock and pure gratitude," Cohen said. "There were some normally stoic people who were on the call that were visibly emotional."
Gartner announced the sale of the team early last month which became finalized on Dec. 28. That's where the $600,000 in bonuses had came from.
Along with a group of associates, the former '97 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former president of NBC News and editor of the Des Moines Register purchased the Triple-A Chicago Cubs affiliate in 1999.
Gartner was always known for going out of his way to get in touch with fans and employees throughout the season. He would be seen walking around the ballpark and handing out baseballs during gamedays.
The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the entirety of the 2020 Minor League Baseball season, leading many MiLB owners to lay off employees.
This wasn't the case for Gartner and the Iowa Cubs. He kept them on the payroll and employed, so they could continue making ends meet.
Actions like that have always been a part of Gartner's reputation with the team.
"I can't say I was expecting this, but it's not out of character for Mr. Gartner," Cohen said. "I got COVID-19 in June 2020, and the first call I got was from Michael Gartner seeing how I was and if I needed anything, and he offered (to) drop off groceries at my door."
You don't see this type of move often. Not just in minor league baseball, but in other professional sports or any type of job. It speaks to the years of generosity, built up into one final sendoff and giveback Gartner wanted to deliver.
"It was the single-most generous thing I've seen working in baseball, and I've worked for five different teams in 12 years," Cohen said. "I know some people say, 'Oh yeah, they sold their team for X money, so it's not that much.' It was life changing money to people … (Gartner and Associates) made a change in their life."
Gartner may not be with the team in his traditional position anymore, but his legacy as a humanitarian will last forever with the Iowa Cubs.