By Ken Reed
The Staten Island Yankees, Tri-City Valley Cats, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes and Norwich Sea Unicorns have sued Major League Baseball (MLB) for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act.
The teams’ complaint alleges that MLB orchestrated an agreement among its clubs to eliminate 40 minor league teams (out of 160) in a cost-cutting move. The complaint further charges that MLB “collectively decided to artificially reduce the number” of affiliated minor league teams instead of allowing the free market to determine which teams would survive and prosper.
For reasons that have always defied logic, Major League Baseball has long held an antitrust exemption. The 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act stated, in brief, that business combinations formed with the intention of restricting trade are illegal. Major League Baseball, however, has been exempt from this law since the Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore v. National League et al Supreme Court ruling in 1922. In essence, collusion in baseball became completely legal the day of that ruling.
“There is no industry like baseball in our country,” according to sports economist Andrew Zimbalist. “It has special status as a monopoly, and it is completely unregulated.”
The Plaintiffs in this new case say they were inspired to bring the lawsuit due to the Supreme Court’s recent signaling in NCAA v. Alston, 141 S. Ct. 2141 (2021) of its willingness to possibly reconsider MLB’s antitrust exemption. Plaintiffs allege that they:
“have objectively good reasons to believe that the Supreme Court would no longer apply the ‘unrealistic,’ ‘inconsistent’ and ‘aberration[al]’ baseball antitrust exemption if presented with a proper case for considering it. This is that case.”
Minor league baseball teams are part of Americana. Chopping 40 of them to save the equivalent of the cost of one minimum-salaried player per MLB team seems to be an example of greed at its most petty. Each MLB team saved a little less than $1 million by cutting 40 minor league teams. For this relatively small amount, in a $11-12 billion industry, owners were apparently willing to risk losing current and future fans — young and old alike — and damaging the one big advantage baseball has over other professional sports leagues: history, tradition and nostalgia.
Many of the teams eliminated have been stalwart cultural institutions in their towns for decades.
“Minor league baseball teams have had a major impact on small communities. These teams provide an enormous cultural and economic benefit to the communities they call home,” said Congressman David McKinley of West Virginia.
It’s amazing how short-term greed can make some business people blind to the big picture. I guess history, tradition, loyal grass roots communities, and current and future fans aren’t part of the nearsighted, profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) thinking of Major League Baseball owners.
Here’s hoping these four minor league teams are successful with this lawsuit and the court system finally yanks MLB’s undeserved antitrust exemption.
Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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