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 #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.” We discuss overzealous adults in youth sports, the dangers of sport specialization, youth sports entrepreneurs and the profit-at-all-costs mindset, and the growing socio-economic gap in youth sports.
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Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
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.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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