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Iowa Cubs owner kept entire staff on full-pay during 604-day pandemic hiatus

"We kept everybody on full pay and benefits the whole time. We lost $4 million, but they needed the money more than I did," the 82-year-old said.

Iowa Cubs owner kept entire staff on full-pay during 604-day pandemic hiatus
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/Grant Faint

The Iowa Cubs finally returned to Principal Park in Des Moines on May 4, putting an end to the long 604-day hiatus brought about by the pandemic. Despite the long break, the minor league team had little trouble getting right back to business as unlike most other teams — which were forced to part with most, if not all, of its staff — the Triple-A affiliate of the MLB's Chicago Cubs chose to grind it out. This unusual business move is credited to the leadership of Iowa Cubs majority owner and chairman Michael Gartner who felt the wellbeing of his staff was well worth the sizable financial loss from this decision.



 

"We kept everybody on full pay and benefits the whole time. We lost $4 million, but they needed the money more than I did," Gartner told the Des Moines Register. "To get ready for (Opening Day), I didn't really have to do anything. I've got all these great people who work here." When the Pacific Coast League announced the cancellation of the 2020 season last June, most minor league baseball owners furloughed or laid off their full-time staff members to combat pandemic-related financial struggles. However, 82-year-old Gartner chose a different route and tried to keep things in perspective while planning for the future.



 

 

"Michael takes a long-term look at everything," said Iowa vice president and assistant general manager Randy Wehofer. "That's why we can think about not only tomorrow, but next year, too. We can even look beyond the pandemic. He sets the tone for that." These qualities set Gartner apart from other professional sports owners; it is quite rare in the industry, especially in this era, to not consider short-term results and the bottom-line while making business decisions.



 

 

Although staying the course may have seemed a foolish move to other professional sports owners and it did hurt the franchise's finances at the time, Gartner's commitment to his workers paid off big time when the 2021 season rolled around. While teams that laid off their staff during the pandemic scrambled to rehire and find new workers, the Iowa Cubs were fully staffed and ready to go. Their experience, expertise, and familiarity with the team helped them effortlessly take on the challenges associated with preparing for a season amid a continuing pandemic.



 

 



 

 

"I can't imagine what the last two weeks would have been like if we had been like every other minor-league team or ownership that furloughed or laid off half, if not most, of the staff," said Wehofer. The team's diligence and loyalty bore fruit on opening day when local fans got to safely watch a ballgame at Principal Park after 20 months. "We work off of a simple business concept: safe, clean and fun," said Iowa Cubs president and general manager Sam Bernabe. "If it's not safe and it's not clean, then we don't have to worry about fun because no one's coming anyway."



 

"The most gratifying part of my job is watching the smiling faces of families as they come into the ballpark," Bernabe added. "This year, everybody wants to talk, and they say, 'Thanks for getting the park open.' And it shouldn't be them thanking me — it should be me thanking them for remembering where the hell the ballpark is." Gartner chimed in with similar sentiments, saying: "They missed it, and they're just happy to be back. A piece of their life has come back."

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