The Senate Judiciary Committee questions the legality of Major League Baseball’s antitrust exception

The Senate Judiciary Committee questions the legality of Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemptions, and issued a letter on Tuesday to Advocates for Minor Leaguers asking about the impact on players’ lives.

The letter is a cross-party effort led by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Mike Lee (R-Utah). The letter from the Justice Committee marks the first significant step taken by the federal government to question the legality of MLB’s antitrust exemptions.

“We are writing to seek information on how baseball’s antitrust exemptions affect competition in the labor market for smaller league players, as well as the operation of smaller league teams,” the letter said.

The questions from the letter include: what effect does the antitrust exception have on the occurrence of lockout and work stoppage at MLB level; the role of the antitrust exception in requiring all minor leagues to sign a uniform player contract; and what effect the removal of the antitrust exception will have on working conditions in smaller leagues. It also asks about the extent of corruption and abuse in the market for international prospects and whether the antitrust exception has any role in enabling this signing practice.

The letter represents the most thorough interrogation of MLB’s antitrust exception at the federal level. The question had twice reached the Supreme Court since 1922 (1953 and 1972), and a challenge from 2017 failed in the ninth American Court of Appeal.

“We need to examine how Major League Baseball’s 100-year-old antitrust exception affects the operation of baseball teams in minor leagues and the ability of minor league players to earn a decent living,” Durbin wrote. “This cross-party request for information will help inform the committee about the impact of this exception, especially when it comes to smaller leagues and international prospects. We must ensure that all professional ball players are allowed to play on a fair and even pitch.”

Grassley wrote: “This is about ensuring a level playing field for the minor leagues and its players. MLB’s special antitrust exceptions should not impose work or contraction problems on minor leagues and players. Baseball is America’s pastime and it means more than just major leagues.”

Banning MLB’s antitrust exemptions will fundamentally change baseball operations in America.

The uniform player contract signed by all minor leagues states that teams control the rights of players for up to seven years in the minor leagues and seven years in the major leagues. Due to the antitrust exception, if a minor league decides to stop playing the sport before the age of seven in minors or majors, the team owns the rights to the player and he cannot play the sport professionally elsewhere unless he is released from the contract. sin.

“Minor league players are by far the group most negatively affected by baseball’s antitrust exemptions,” said Minor Leaguers Director Advocates Harry Marino. “MLB owners should not have a special license to underpay their workers. We are confident that Congress will recognize just as much through this process and ultimately repeal baseball antitrust exceptions when it comes to issues concerning minor league players.”

Of the four major sports in America, baseball is the only one that has exemption from antitrust. MLB has operated with an antitrust exception since 1922 after the Supreme Court ruled that the league could suppress salaries and make business decisions that operate outside of antitrust rules.

As a result of the antitrust exception, baseball players who sign the uniform player contract cannot seek better pay elsewhere. In 2022, smaller leagues will earn an annual salary between $ 4,800 and $ 15,400. The US federal poverty line for one person in most states by 2022 is $ 13,590.

Those in the federal government previously threatened MLB’s special antitrust exemptions. In March 2022, Durbin tweets that “it is time to reconsider MLB’s special antitrust exemptions, which allow them to operate as a legal monopoly.”

Sen. Lee, a member of the Justice Committee, introduced a bill called the Competition in Professional Baseball Act that has the support of three other Republicans on the panel, including Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. When Lee introduced the bill, Lee said that antitrust laws increase competition and that competition benefits consumers by lowering prices and increasing quality.

“There’s no reason why Major League Baseball should be treated any differently than any other professional sports league in America,” Lee said in April 2021. “There is no reason why they should have preferential treatment over the NFL, or the NBA, or anyone else. professional athletic organization. “

In addition, four minor league teams filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court in late December, arguing that Major League Baseball’s decision to end the big league affiliation with these clubs represented anti-competitive behavior that violated federal antitrust laws, and represented MLB cooperation. to eliminate the role of the free market in determining the fate of franchisees.