Senate Judiciary Committee Requests Information in Letter on MLB Antitrust Exemption

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJune 28, 2022

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MAY 22:  A MLB logo is seen before a game between the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on May 22, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Senate Judiciary Committee wrote a letter to the executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers requesting information on MLB's antitrust exemption.

Chelsea Janes @chelsea_janes

Fascinating development around MLB’s antitrust exemption: The Senate Judiciary committee this morning sent a letter of inquiry to the advocacy group Advocates for Minor Leaguers seeking info on how the exemption affects labor practices in the minors. <a href="https://t.co/Az2DvrFYE4">pic.twitter.com/Az2DvrFYE4</a>

The committee said it's "[seeking] information about how baseball's antitrust exemption is impacting competition in the labor market for minor league ballplayers as well as the operations of minor league teams."

The second question in the letter reads: "What effect does the antitrust exemption have on the incidence of lockouts and work stoppages at the MLB level, and what impact do these incidents have on minor league players and teams?"

In May 1922, the U.S. Supreme Court created an antitrust exemption for MLB. That effectively made MLB the only game in town when it came to professional baseball.

Taking away that exemption would open the door for competing leagues to enter the mix. Rather than being a direct rival to MLB, a new league could provide an avenue for players struggling to break through in the majors, much like what the USFL and XFL have done for football players.

More likely, based on the letter from the Senate Judiciary Committee, legislators are targeting the exemption in order to address long-standing concerns for minor leaguers.

ESPN.com's Joon Lee explained how MLB exercises significant control over minor league players:

"The uniform player contract signed by every minor leaguer states that teams control the rights of players for up to seven years in the minor leagues and seven years in the major leagues. Due to the antitrust exemption, if a minor leaguer decides to stop playing the sport before the seven years in the minors or the majors, the team owns the rights to the player and he cannot play the sport professionally elsewhere unless he is released from his contract."

Minor league players, who aren't a part of a union like their MLB peers, aren't covered by minimum wage laws, either.

In April, The Athletic's Brittany Ghiroli highlighted one study of minor leaguers in which 72 percent of the respondents "said their developmental needs were not met by the current wages/salary."

MLB settled a lawsuit in May filed by minor leaguers in 2014 over player pay. The terms of the settlement weren't disclosed.

Considering this isn't the first time federal legislators have targeted MLB's antitrust exemption, radical change may not be on the horizon just yet. But MLB is clearly under the microscope.