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


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