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Baseball history includes gay owner of minor league Cubs franchise
by Ross Forman
2010-02-24

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Laura Ricketts is the first openly gay owner of a major league men's sports team, but Chicago Cubs' history also includes a gay man who was part owner of a minor league Cubs affiliate.

Rich Eychaner ( brother of Chicago gay philanthropist, Democratic Party donor and business owner Fred Eychaner ) was asked to invest in an Iowa-based minor league affiliate of the Cubs in late-1981. And Eychaner told Ken Grandquist, who was looking to purchase the team, that, yes, he would invest, but with a clause.

Eychaner told Grandquist: "I don't invest in places that I'm not involved in from a management standpoint. At least on the Board of Directors.'

Grandquist considered Eychaner's stipulation for about six weeks and then, in early-1982, called to welcome Eychaner -- and his money -- to the minor league team.

Eychaner was a Vice President for the Cubs' AAA affiliate, which is the highest-rung in minor league baseball, truly one step from the majors.

Eychaner spent four seasons with the team, which he was largely responsible for re-naming the Iowa Cubs from the Iowa Oaks, and also changing the team's uniforms to match the Chicago Cubs. He also was a TV color commentator for the team's Iowa Cable Network broadcasts. And, he helped the team sell all of its box seats for the 1982 season, which was a team first.

"In 1981, I was looking for something that would help tie me into the community," Eychaner said. "The baseball team seemed like a logical fit."

Eychaner was one of four primary team owners, and he was the third-largest investor of the four. "The club took off and did well," he said.

"My four years with the team was a lot of fun."

Eychaner, now 61, was an openly gay, high-ranking team executive -- and he did not endure any hardships over his sexuality.

"Obviously there were no openly gay players," during his tenure with the Iowa Cubs, "but someday we'll have an openly gay player," said Eychaner, who is originally from DeKalb, Ill.

The Iowa Cubs then featured several players who eventually played in the major leagues, such as Scott Fletcher, Mel Hall, Pat Tabler, Craig Lefferts and Dan Rohn.

Eychaner did not have a partner during his baseball run. Today, he said he is, "dating."

"The players [ on the Iowa teams ] seemed comfortable being around [ gay people ] , just as with straight people," he said.

Ironically, the Chicago Cubs are now splashed into the LGBT spotlight as lesbian Laura Ricketts is part of the new ownership group.

"I was excited" to hear about Laura, Eychaner said. "In a lot of respects, I had hoped there would be open LGBT involvement with professional sports long before now. It's one of those things that should have happened 20- or 30-years ago. But I'm pleased it's finally happened. I'm pleased she's open. From what I can tell and what I've read, it really hasn't made much of an impact, which is the way it should be.

"Still, she is a ground-breaking person.

"And, [ thanks to Ricketts ] , it would not surprise me if, three- or four-years from now, there are several more out/open LGBT people who have ownership interest or significant roles on major professional teams."

Eychaner, who lives in Des Moines, now runs Eychaner Properties, Inc., a real estate company.

What about an open, active major league player?

"Just the fact that she's there, in such a high-profile job, will make a difference," if an active player wanted to come out, Eychaner said.

Eychaner graduated from DeKalb Senior High School in 1966, and then moved on to Illinois Wesleyan University. He ultimately received his degree Magna Cum Laude from The American University in 1972.

After a brief stint as a seminary student at St. Paul School of Theology, he moved to Iowa to open an Allied Van Lines.

"I thought I was moving to Des Moines for a month or two [ in 1975 ] , just to open a branch [ office ] for my father. As it turned out, it just made more sense to run Iowa and go my own direction," he said. "After three years [ in Iowa ] , the stress of trying to build a business from scratch, and being in the closet, was so great. It became clear to me that I had to come out and that I needed to be active in gay rights issues, mostly because no one else was speaking up for gay people in Iowa in any substantial way. I also felt I needed to be out for my own mental and emotional health.

"I knew that people may not hire me, or my company, or quit working for me, because I was gay. But I couldn't survive in the closet."

He came out in November, 1978.

"I did lose some employees and I did have customers who would no longer use my company," he said. "But I was out, proud and prominent in the community, sort of a de-facto spokesman for the city."

Want more about Rich Eychaner? Here goes:

- Was a founding chairman for the Gay Coalition of Iowa.

- Was a co-founder for the First Iowa Caucus Project, advocating gay rights in presidential campaigns.

- Was a Board Member for the Iowa Civil Liberties Union.

- Was a Republican candidate for Congress in Iowa's 4th District, and was Iowa's first openly gay candidate and second openly gay Republican candidate for Federal office in the U.S.

- Was the founder/president for KKDM radio station

- A member of the Governor's Equal Opportunity for Employment Task Force.

- President and founder for Iowa's Matthew Shepard Scholarship Program for LGBT students in Iowa.

- Co-founder for GLBT Youth in Iowa Schools Task Force.

- Co-founder Iowa Pride Network.

- Board Member of Des Moines Gay Men's Chorus

- President of Iowa Civil Rights Commission.


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