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Today in Cubs history: The sale to Tribune Co. is completed... but not until after an objection

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A shareholder raised a challenge to Tribco’s purchase, the last gasp of the Wrigley-era ownership.

Photo by Ralf-Finn Hestoft/Corbis via Getty Images

The sale of the Cubs to Tribune Company first made headlines in June 1981, just after baseball that year was halted by a players’ strike.

But it took a while for all the details to be sorted out, and the last such detail was the approval of the sale by Cubs shareholders.

Yes, “shareholders,” because owner William Wrigley II owned 81 percent of the team. That was more than enough to vote to approve the sale, but it still required a shareholders’ meeting attended by many of the minority shareholders. Many of those shares had been acquired from Wrigley employees who got them as gifts.

As reported by Terry Atlas in the Tribune:

This happened during a chaotic 3½-hour meeting that finally ended with Cubs’ shareholders approving the sale of the team and all of its assets to Tribune Company.

The final vote to sell the club was 9,207 shares in favor and 141 opposed — after an earlier voice vote by minority stockholders to postpone the sale was voided by Cubs officials.

And why did this voice vote happen? From Atlas:

Cubs’ President William J. Hagenah Jr. made a decision that resulted in the sale nearly being shelved. He permitted the voice vote on a motion by Jack Strellis, owner of three shares, to postpone the deal because the value of the team could rise if the Cubs should win the second-half title in the National League East.

That, as you know, was laughable. The Cubs were the worst team in baseball in 1981; I recently wrote about that club and other bad Cubs teams here. The Cubs entered play August 28, 1981, the date of that meeting, with a 9-8 record in the second half of that strike-split season. There was a chance, I suppose, but like most thoughts of Cubs postseason play in that era, it was a pipedream.

Here’s what happened next:

The minority stockholders voted loudly for the delay, overriding “nay” votes by Wrigley and one other stockholder. “I thought it would save time,” Hagenah later explained. “I did not realize the vote would go by decibels rather than shares of stock.”

So it appeared the transaction would have to be postponed — until lawyers intervened with some parliamentary hardball that rescinded the minority vote.

One of those long-ago Cubs minority shareholders is a friend of mine, Jessica Rosner. I asked her for her personal recollections of that meeting, and here’s what she told me:

Of course I voted with him, so I was one of the 32. I don’t think I have any more specific memories than that other than they gave out some leftover “swag.” I remember a school type notebook binder with the logo on it.

I only had my share for TWO YEARS. My parents snagged it as a high school graduation present. It actually doubled in value as they paid around $1,000 for it. I recall the actual final sale price was $21.5 million, as I got $2,300 for my one share.

Jessica also shared with me her memory of another, earlier Cubs shareholders meeting:

I vividly remember my FIRST stockholders meeting. I was naive and figured the other fans who had shares were like me die hard fans but upset with how the Cubs were managed, etc.

When question time came people were asking general manager Bob Kennedy things like did they expect to carry two or three catchers and as you might imagine, I was not so polite.

I don’t remember the exact question but it had to do generally with bad and cheap management and I mentioned the Bill Madlock trade and that according to reports Madlock found out about it when called by the press, as the Cubs did not tell him. The first words out of Kennedy’s mouth were: ”Young lady, I believe you are being hostile.”

Here is what a Cubs stock certificate looked like under the Wrigley ownership:

One last story about her share of the Cubs from Jessica:

My parents got the stock through my brother-in-law’s family. They were big fans and worked at Drexel Burnham Lambert and they found out about a share for sale (someone else in their family got one).

So sometime in May I get a letter from Drexel Burnham thanking me for being a customer, I initially think it is a scam but then I received a second letter regarding my purchase of “a share of CHICAGO NATIONAL LEAGUE BALL CLUB.” Alas, my “surprise” graduation present was spoiled but I was happy.

It was a different time, and the Cubs shareholders meeting approving the sale of the team to Tribune Company (after that bizarre voice vote attempting a delay) happened 40 years ago today.