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Senate Judiciary Committee Questions Legality of Major League Baseball’s Antitrust Exemption

The Senate Judiciary Committee is questioning the legality of Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption, issuing a letter Tuesday addressed to minor league advocates asking about its impact on players’ lives.

The letter is a bipartisan effort spearheaded by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Mike Lee (Utah). The Judiciary Committee’s letter represents the first substantial step the federal government has taken to challenge the legality of MLB’s antitrust exemption.

“We are writing to obtain information about how baseball’s antitrust exemption affects competition in the job market for minor league players, as well as the operations of minor league teams,” the letter said.

Questions in the letter include: What is the effect of the antitrust exemption on the occurrence of lockouts and business stoppages at the MLB level; What role does the antitrust exemption play in requiring all small players to sign a standard player contract? And what is the effect of removing the antitrust exception on secondary business conditions? It also asks about the extent of corruption and abuse in the marketplace relative to international perspectives, and whether the antitrust exemption played any role in allowing these flagship practices.

The letter represents the most comprehensive challenge to MLB’s antitrust exemption at the federal level. The case has reached the Supreme Court twice since 1922 (1953 and 1972), and the 2017 challenge to the 9th US Court of Appeals failed.

“We need to examine how Major League Baseball’s 100-year antitrust exemption affects the operation of minor league baseball teams and the ability of minor league baseball players to make a decent living,” Durbin wrote. “This bipartisan request for information will help inform the committee about the impact of this waiver, particularly when it comes to minor league and international prospects. We need to make sure that all professional footballers play on a fair and level playing field.”

Grassley wrote: “This is about ensuring the level of play for the minor leagues and their players. MLB’s special antitrust exemption should not impose recession or business problems on minor league players and teams. Baseball is America’s pastime and that means more than just the major leagues.” leagues».

Barring MLB’s antitrust exemption would fundamentally change the business of baseball in America.

A uniform player contract signed by each junior player states that teams control the rights of players for up to seven years in minor tournaments and seven years in major tournaments. Due to the antitrust exemption, if a minor player decides to stop playing the sport seven years ago in the minor or major categories, the team owns the rights to the player and cannot practice the sport professionally elsewhere unless exempted from their contract.

“Minor league players are the group most negatively affected by baseball’s antitrust exemption,” said Harry Marino, director of the Minor League Defenders team. “MLB owners should not have a special license to pay their workers cheaply. We trust that Congress will similarly recognize through this process and eventually rescind baseball’s antitrust exemption as it pertains to matters involving minor league players.”

Of the four major sports in the United States, baseball is the only sport that has an antitrust exemption. MLB has operated under antitrust exemption since 1922 after the Supreme Court ruled the league could suppress wages and make business decisions by operating outside antitrust rules.

As a result of the antitrust exemption, baseball players who sign the uniformed player contract cannot seek better wages elsewhere. In 2022, young retirees will have an annual salary of between $4,800 and $15,400. The US federal poverty guideline for a single person in most states in 2022 is $13,590.

Members of the federal government previously threatened MLB’s special antitrust exemption. In March 2022, Durbin tweeted That “it’s time to reconsider MLB’s antitrust exemption, which allows them to operate as a legal monopoly.”

Senator Lee, a member of the Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill called the Professional Baseball Competition Act that is supported by three other Republicans on the committee, including Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. . Introducing the bill, Lee said antitrust laws promote competition and competition benefits consumers by lowering prices and increasing quality.

“There is no reason Major League Baseball should be treated any differently than any other professional sports league in America,” Another Professional Sports Organization told me in April 2021.

In addition, four minor league teams filed a lawsuit in United States District Court in late December arguing that Major League Baseball’s decision to terminate the primary affiliation of these clubs represented anti-competitive behavior in violation of federal antitrust laws. , which represents collusion on the part of MLB to eliminate the role of the free market in determining the fate of the franchise.

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