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MLB Asked for Antitrust Exemption Information By Senate Judiciary Committee

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJuly 18, 2022

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Senate Judiciary Committee wrote a letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred regarding the antitrust exemption MLB continues to enjoy.

The committee is "[seeking] information about how MLB's antitrust exemption impacts the league's structure and operations, with a 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."

Evan Drellich @EvanDrellich

News: The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has sent a letter to commissioner Rob Manfred asking for information about Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption, the latest step in the committee's inquiry into the exemption. Manfred has been asked to respond by July 26. <a href="https://t.co/IQKbj3uDZH">pic.twitter.com/IQKbj3uDZH</a>

The committee requested a response by July 26.

This comes after Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leagues, received a similar letter. Marino was asked how the antitrust exemption affects minor leaguers, as well as how the minor leagues were affected by MLB's consolidation of the lower levels for the 2021 season.

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>

In 1922, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Major League Baseball to be exempted from the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. That set the stage for MLB to effectively have a monopoly on professional baseball in the United States.

In addition to allowing MLB to exercise blackout restrictions and territorial rights, the exemption significantly limits a player's options at both the major and minor league levels.

ESPN.com's Joon Lee explained the real-world impact:

"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."

Marino responded to the Senate Judiciary Committee's letter and called for Congress to expand the Curt Flood Act of 1998 to minor league players. The piece of legislation removed MLB's antitrust exemption when it came to labor matters with major leaguers.

Evan Drellich @EvanDrellich

In response to U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Advocates for Minor Leaguers calls for bill shielding minor leaguers from MLB's antitrust exemption (1/3) <a href="https://t.co/EKgivaLtml">https://t.co/EKgivaLtml</a> <a href="https://t.co/vffrmFYVSr">pic.twitter.com/vffrmFYVSr</a>

Marino also told Senate members he believes the minor leagues could face a further threat from MLB and its owners following the 2021 restructure, per ESPN's Jeff Passan:

"It is only a matter of time until the MLB owners inform us that they intend to take a wrecking ball to our national game once more. As we sit here today, another round of Minor League contraction β€” fewer players and more devastated communities β€” appears inevitable. The owners have already indicated as much to those who are paying attention."

MLB's treatment of minor league players has come under significant scrutiny in recent years. Although some are able to sign sizable bonuses right out of the gate that provide them with financial security, that isn't true for most.

Beyond the low pay, minor leaguers also have to deal with the difficulty of finding temporary residence during the season.

"Players detailed living out of their cars, dealing with roach-infested apartments and piling multiple teammates in one- or two-bedroom apartments, with some men sleeping on lawn chairs, pool rafts or air mattresses," The Athletic's Britt Ghiroli wrote in August 2021.

MLB just agreed to pay $185 million to settle a class action lawsuit over alleged violations of minimum wage laws. As Monday's letter shows, however, this matter is far from resolved.

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