Congress asks Rob Manfred for MLB antitrust rationale in letter
The Senate Judiciary Committee got right to the point in a letter to Commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday: If America’s other major sports have to follow antitrust law, why should baseball remain exempt from that law?
On Thursday, Manfred told the Los Angeles Times that the only “really meaningful” application of the exemption is in letting the league control franchise relocation. In Monday’s letter, the committee told Manfred it wished to focus on “the exemption’s impact on competition in the labor market for minor league ballplayers, as well as the operations of minor league teams.”
The letter specifically asked Manfred to commit to “no further contraction of minor league clubs.” As Major League Baseball took over operation of the minor leagues last season, it eliminated 43 clubs that had been affiliated with major league teams.
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Manfred was asked to reply by July 26. The answers, the letter said, would help the committee’s “analysis of the necessity of this century-old exemption.” The committee is considering legislation to repeal the exemption entirely.
In its letter, the committee noted that the Department of Justice recently said in a court filing that the exemption “does not rest on any substantive policy interests that justify players and fans losing out on the benefits of competition.”
In a statement, MLB said: “We look forward to providing detailed information to the committee regarding baseball’s limited antitrust exemption and how it has provided franchise location stability at the major league level, maximized the availability of minor league baseball for fans and quality employment opportunities for aspiring major leaguers.”
The nonprofit Advocates for Minor Leaguers, which responded this month to a similar letter from the committee, has urged legislation that would repeal the exemption with respect to minor league contracts, as the Curt Flood Act of 1998 did for major leaguers.
“Since Commissioner Manfred claimed just last week that the antitrust exemption does not have any effect on Minor League Baseball, we expect that Major League Baseball will join us in asking Congress to pass the Minor League Curt Flood Act as soon as possible,” Advocates Executive Director Harry Marino said in a statement.
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In June, after the committee requested information about the exemption and its impact from the Advocates, the organization responded by calling the exemption “extraordinary and unjustified” and said the owners’ treatment of minor leaguers — signing a seven-year entry contract on an industrywide pay scale, without the ability to negotiate with other teams so long as they remain under contract — would be “illegal” without the protection offered by the exemption.
“Most minor league players are living below the federal poverty level for one simple reason: baseball’s unique antitrust exemption prevents them from offering fair compensation,” the Advocates wrote in their response.
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