US Senate sends bipartisan letter on MLB antitrust exemption

Bipartisan members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee have sent a letter to advocates for the nonprofit Minor League requesting more information about the antitrust exemption and its interaction with three developments in baseball: the pay structure for the Minor Leagues, the MLB orchestrated reduction in the number of league affiliates Minor and MLB International Amateur System status.

The two-page letter, dated Tuesday, was signed by Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and ranking member Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, as well as by Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Connect, and Mike. Lee, AR Utah.

“This bipartisan request for information will help inform the committee of the impact of this waiver, particularly when it comes to minor leagues and international prospects,” Durbin said in a statement accompanying the news. “We need to make sure that all professional footballers play on a fair and level playing field.”

In a statement, Grassley said, “MLB’s special antitrust exemption should not pose employment problems or downturns for Minor League teams and players. Baseball is America’s pastime, and that means more than just the major leagues.”

Antitrust laws are intended to prevent companies from engaging in anticompetitive practices, but the MLB has retained its exemption since the Supreme Court ruled on May 29, 1922, that MLB’s business did not meet the criteria for “interstate commerce.”

Major players in the league are represented by a union, presiding over labor law rather than antitrust law when there is a collective bargaining agreement between management and employees. MLB players were also stripped of the antitrust exemption in the 1998 Curt Flood Act, which maintained the antitrust exemption for the rest of the MLB business, but recently gave power to major league players to file an antitrust challenge if they so chose.

However, there are no minor leagues in the league and they are paid according to a scale determined by the 30 major league teams.

MLB’s antitrust exemption has been challenged in court on multiple occasions, including most recently in December 2021 when four former minor league affiliates sued in Manhattan Federal District Court against a minor league reorganization that specifically called for an antitrust exemption.

Removing the MLB’s antitrust exemption would bring the league into line with other major professional leagues like the NFL, which is not allowed to use its connections or financial resources to prevent the formation of leagues like the XFL and USFL.

“This means that competition will arise,” Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) said in March on HBO’s Real Sports after introducing the Save American Baseball Act.

“This means that others will have the opportunity to start different leagues in Major League Baseball. This means that baseball will spread to areas that you don’t have now. In other words, there will be competition at last. And the major leagues simply won’t be able to do what they want to do.”

(Photo: Jasen Vinlove/USA Today)

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