Wednesday, September 6, 2017

We all love baseball

The Sherman Antitrust Act makes it illegal for businesses to conspire with each other to fix prices and to otherwise control the market. But in 1922, the Supreme Court ruled that the Act does not apply to Major League Baseball. I believe that MLB is the only major industry that is exempt from the antitrust laws. This case asks the Second Circuit to get around that exemption, but the Circuit will not do so.

The case is Wyckoff v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, a summary order issued on August 31. When the Supreme Court in 1922 said MLB was exempt from the antitrust laws, it supported that reasoning with some hackneyed analysis having to do with baseball as entertainment and not really an industry. Of course, MLB is in fact an industry, so the Supreme Court's reasoning has been criticized ever since. My sense is the Court did this because we all love baseball and it's a way of life and not merely an money-making enterprise. Anyone who ever played catch with his dad or remembers seeing a major league baseball field for the first time can relate to this.

In 1972, the Court reaffirmed the principle that MLB is exempt from the Sherman Antitrust Act, in a case brought by Curt Flood, an outfielder who did not want to be traded from St. Louis to Philadelphia and claimed the trade was against his will and allowed to happen because the teams were able to make unreviewable decisions among themselves about the players that no other industry could ever get away with. Think about it. Could IBM "trade" one of its employees to Microsoft and blackball the employee from the industry if he does not want to relocate to the State of Washington? What make the Curt Flood case even worse was Justice Blackman's opening paragraph, in which he extolled the beauty of baseball by listing his favorite all-time players. This stunt only further confirmed that emotions were getting in the way of rational legal analysis.

This case is brought by major league scouts who claim that MLB conspired to decrease competition in the labor market for professional baseball scouts. As it happens, in 1998, Congress passed the Curt Flood Act, which created an exception to baseball's antitrust exemption for MLB players. But that Act does not apply to scouts.

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