US Senate Judiciary Committee Sends Bipartisan Letter On MLB Antitrust Exemption

Bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee have sent a letter to the non-profit Advocates for Minor Leaguers requesting further information on the antitrust exemption and its interplay with three developments in baseball: the pay structure for minor leaguers, the MLB-orchestrated reduction in the number of minor league affiliates and the state of MLB’s international amateur system.

The two-page letter, dated Tuesday, is signed by committee chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, as well as by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Mike Lee, R-Utah.

“This bipartisan request for information will help inform the Committee about the impact of this exemption, especially when it comes to Minor League and international prospects,” Durbin said in a statement accompanying the news. “We need to make sure that all professional ballplayers get to play on a fair and level field.”

Grassley said in a statement, “MLB’s special antitrust exemption shouldn’t be imposing labor or contraction problems for Minor League teams and players. Baseball is America’s pastime, and that means more than just the Major Leagues.”

Antitrust laws are meant to prevent businesses from engaging in anti-competitive practices, but MLB has held its exemption since the Supreme Court ruled on May 29, 1922, that MLB’s business didn’t meet the criteria of “interstate commerce.”

Major league players are represented by a union, and labor law presides rather than antitrust law when a collective bargaining agreement is in place between management and employees. MLB players were also carved out from the antitrust exemption in the 1998 Curt Flood Act, which preserved the antitrust exemption for the rest of MLB’s business, but newly gave power to major league players to bring a challenge on antitrust grounds if they chose.

Minor leaguers, however, have no union and are paid according to a scale set by the 30 major league teams.

MLB’s antitrust exemption has been challenged in court on multiple occasions, including as recently as December 2021 when four former minor-league affiliates filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal district courtagainst minor-league reorganization that specifically called out the antitrust exemption.

Removing MLB’s antitrust exemption would bring the league in line with other major professional leagues like the NFL, which isn’t allowed to use its connections or financial wherewithal to prevent leagues like the XFL and USFL from forming.

“It would mean that competition would arise,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) in a March appearanceon HBO’s “Real Sports” after introducing the “Save American Baseball Act.”

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