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Improving America’s Pastime: Baseball | Suggestion #12 – No Anti-Trust Exemption

By Martie Hevia | Blue Beach Song™

Suggestion #12: Get Rid of the Anti-Trust Exemption

In the 1922 decision in Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore v. National League, the Supreme Court declared that baseball was a game, not a business, giving Major League Baseball, in effect, an anti-trust exemption.

When the court revisited the issue in 1953, it left the matter to Congress to correct through legislation, if warranted. Congress has yet to pass any legislation that would take away MLB’s exemption.

Well, it may have started out as a game, but I think the billionaire owners and the millionaire players and the corporate luxury boxes in the stadiums clearly show that somewhere along the way, baseball evolved into BIG business. So, I think it is time that we get rid of MLB’s anti-trust exemption, after all, no other sport has it. Leave the 19th Century romantic view of baseball in the history books and in the old photographs where it belongs, and let’s look at baseball for what it is: a big business monopoly. It is time Congress corrected that.

Baseball’s Anti-Trust Exemption 101

Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals YouTube Channel

As you may know, anti-trust laws were created to keep businesses from monopolizing their given market. Major League Baseball is the only professional sport with an anti-trust exemption simply because the courts determined long ago that it was a “game” and not a “commercial enterprise,” in other words, the courts did not consider Major League Baseball a business.

In 1903, the National League and the American League joined forces and became what we know today as Major League Baseball (MLB).

In 1915, a third league, the Federal League, sued Major League Baseball under the federal anti-trust law for keeping them from being able to hire MLB ballplayers who were in-between contracts due to MLB’s “reserve clause” which bound players to their teams, even after their contracts expired. The Federal League later dropped the lawsuit as they were unable to compete and their players and owners were absorbed into the MLB.

The Baltimore Franchise from the Federal League, however, filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the MLB in 1919 and won, but it was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1922.

In 1953, George Toolson sued the Yankees over the reserve clause, claiming it violated anti-trust laws, but again the Supreme Court stood by its 1922 decision.

jatansanand YouTube Channel

In 1972, after being traded, Curt Flood sued MLB under the anti-trust exemption, claiming he was not “a piece of property to be bought and sold” irrespective of his wishes. The Supreme Court, although criticizing MLB’s anti-trust exemption, said it was up to Congress to fix the “anomaly” in the law and did not overturn the earlier courts’ rulings granting MLB the exemption.

Eventually, Curt Flood’s case did lead to collective bargaining, salary arbitration and free agency. However, because of the anti-trust exemption minor league players are tied to the MLB club that signed them and Major League Baseball has the power to dictate broadcasting agreements, league expansion or contraction, and franchise/team sales and moves.

(Hence, as you will read in a future post, my complaining about the MLB blocking the Oakland A’s from moving to San Jose… but that’s another story for another day.)

Today, in this day and age, is there any good reason why Major League Baseball should continue to be exempt from anti-trust laws?

The answer is simply, “No.”

NOTE: This was the twelfth of a 30-part series of posts offering suggestions (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) on how I would improve the game of baseball. This series is based on my original (very long) post: Baseball: How I (A Girl) Would Improve America’s Pastime, it provides the context for this series of posts. I hope you enjoy the series and offer your own suggestions! All the best, -Martie

Martie Hevia © 2011 | All Rights Reserved

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