The Senate Judiciary Committee is questioning the legality of Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption and on Tuesday released a letter to Advocates for Minor Leaguers asking about its impact on players’ lives.
The letter is a bipartisan effort led by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Mike Lee (R-Utah). The Judiciary Committee’s letter is the federal government’s first significant step in challenging the legality of MLB’s antitrust exemption.
“We are writing to seek information on how baseball’s antitrust exemption will affect competition in the labor market for minor league ball players as well as the operations of minor league teams,” the letter reads.
Questions from the letter include: What is the impact of the antitrust exemption on the occurrence of lockouts and work stoppages at the MLB level? the role of the antitrust exemption in requiring all minor leagues to sign a single player contract; and what effect the removal of the antitrust exemption would have on working conditions in minor leagues. It also questions the extent of corruption and abuse in the international prospect market and whether the antitrust exemption plays a role in enabling these underwriting practices.
The letter represents the most thorough federal challenge to MLB’s antitrust exemption. The matter had gone before the Supreme Court twice since 1922 (1953 and 1972), and a 2017 challenge failed in the U.S. 9th Circuit.
“We need to examine how Major League Baseball’s 100-year-old antitrust exemption impacts the operations of minor league baseball teams and the ability of minor league ball players to make a decent living,” Durbin wrote. “This bipartisan request for information will help inform the committee of the implications of this exception, particularly when it comes to those interested in smaller leagues and internationally. We must ensure that all professional ball players can play on a fair and level field.”
Grassley wrote: “This is about ensuring a level playing field for the minor leagues and their players. MLB’s special antitrust exemption should not impose labor or contraction issues on minor league teams and players. Baseball is America’s pastime and it means more than just the big leagues.”
Prohibiting MLB’s antitrust exemption would fundamentally change the business of baseball in America.
The uniform player contract signed by every minor league player states that teams control players’ rights for up to seven years in the minor leagues and seven years in the major leagues. If a minor league player decides to stop playing the sport prior to seven years in the minors or majors, the team owns the rights to the player under the antitrust exemption and he cannot play the sport elsewhere professionally unless , he will be released from his contract .
“Minor league players are by far the group most impacted by the baseball antitrust exemption,” said Harry Marino, director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers. “MLB owners shouldn’t have a special license to underpay their workers. We are hopeful that through this process, Congress will recognize so much and ultimately repeal baseball’s antitrust exemption, which addresses issues affecting minor league players.”
Of the four major sports in America, baseball is the only one with an antitrust exemption. MLB has operated under an antitrust exemption since 1922, after the Supreme Court ruled the league could suppress wages and make business decisions outside of antimonopoly rules.
Because of the antitrust exception, baseball players who sign the uniform player contract cannot ask for better pay elsewhere. In 2022, minor leagues will earn between $4,800 and $15,400 annually. The US federal poverty guideline for one person in most states in 2022 is $13,590.
The federal government previously threatened the MLB with a special antitrust exemption. In March 2022, Durbin tweeted that “it is time to reconsider MLB’s special antitrust exemption that allows them to operate as a legitimate monopoly.”
Senator Lee, a member of the Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill called the Competition in Professional Baseball Act, which three other Republicans on the panel supported, including Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Introducing the bill, Lee said antitrust laws encourage competition and that competition benefits consumers by lowering price and increasing quality.
“There’s no reason Major League Baseball should be treated any differently than any other professional sports league in America,” Lee said in April 2021. “No reason they should be given preferential treatment over the NFL or the NBA or any other professional.” sports organization.”
Additionally, four minor league teams filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in late December, arguing that Major League Baseball’s decision to terminate these clubs’ membership in the big league constituted anticompetitive conduct that violated violates federal antitrust laws and constitutes collusion on the part of MLB Eliminating the role of the free market in determining the fate of franchises.