It’s time for MLB to lose its antitrust exemption status

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 26: Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred looks on prior to Game One of the World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on October 26, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 26: Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred looks on prior to Game One of the World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on October 26, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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Major League Baseball (MLB) has been able to legally function as a monopoly for the last 100 years (since 1922) through the antitrust exemptions. In other words, no other form of professional baseball is allowed to compete against MLB in the United States.

The Sherman Act, which was ratified in 1890 by its chief author Ohio Senator John Sherman, is a piece of legislation that, essentially, allows free competition in commerce. It is also supposed to prevent businesses from fixing markets in their favor and hurting their customers.

MLB got the exemption on a weird ground: the sport doesn’t have “interstate commerce.” In reality, as everyone knows, games take place in numerous different states. But when one game is being played, the game does not change states during the middle of the game.

The Supreme Court has even agreed with that premise but in the 1990s, part of MLB’s antitrust exemption status was revoked due to the Curt Flood Act of 1998.

Flood, who played in the majors from 1956 through 1971, was the person who fought MLB’s reserve clause (a clause that kept players with teams for their entire career). Flood fighting that when he was traded to the Phillies from the Cardinals was the genesis of what later became known as free agency. He also was the person who started the 10-5 rule (players with 10 years of total MLB service and 5 with the same team have a blanket no-trade clause and to be traded, the player must grant permission).

With the Flood Act, though, it only removed the antitrust status for labor. Not for competition, expansion, or minor league baseball.

But MLB’s antitrust exemption needs to be revoked completely

Fast forward nearly 25 years and we are in an MLB lockout, where the MLB owners are canceling, at least, the first two weeks of the MLB season after they neglected to negotiate with the Players’ Union for the first six weeks of the lockout (which they imposed) and have been setting arbitrary deadlines for canceling games.

The problem is that MLB owners are crying poor, despite drawing in more revenue and profits than ever before prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The owners have been negotiating in bad faith (delay of negotiations, arbitrary deadlines, canceling games when it’s unnecessary, throwing in details at the last moment before deadlines, etc.)

Owners can do that because what else do baseball players and baseball fans have to turn to in the United States at a professional level? Nothing.

Revoking MLB’s antitrust status would, therefore, allow a league (or leagues) to compete against them. The U.S. government, at least in the last calendar year, has bi-partisan support for this.

On Wednesday night, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, tweeted his support for revoking this.

When the sport moved the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver in 2021, there were numerous Republican U.S. Senators that said that they wanted to revoke MLB’s antitrust status then. Those Senators included Josh Hawley (Missouri), Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee), Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Florida).

Additionally, 29 members of Congress (all Republican) wanted to revoke it at the time too.

When MLB eliminated more than 40 minor league baseball teams, Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont also expressed an interest to revoke their status as well.

Next. What should have been learned from the last MLB lockout. dark

If the two parties put aside their differences (which is a huge ask), perhaps, MLB owners would at least get their acts together for the greater good (the game and the fans) but even then, Congress needs to revoke their status to ensure that a lockout like this won’t happen again. If it does, fans and players can turn to their competitive league that will still be playing.