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Advocate group calls for bill shielding minor-league players from MLB's antitrust exemption - The Athletic

Advocate group calls for bill shielding minor-league players from MLB's antitrust exemption - The Athletic Image
  • Posted on 07th Jul, 2022 14:19 PM
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In repose to Senate Judiciary letter, advocate group calls for bill that would shield minor league players from Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption.

The group leading the charge to improve pay for minor leaguers is calling for a bill that would shield minor league players from Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption.

In a written response to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, the executive director of the non-profit Advocates for Minor Leaguers said the antitrust exemption is “the reason” behind many of the conditions minor leaguers face, including the salary scale set by the 30 major league clubs and players’ inability to seek a better deal for themselves until seven years after being drafted.

“But for baseball’s antitrust exemption, the current treatment of Minor League players would be illegal,” wrote Harry Marino.

In late June, a bipartisan group of four senators requested information from Marino’s organization about baseball’s antitrust exemption and its effects on minor leaguers and other areas of the business. Marino’s answers, which were due Wednesday, called for an expansion of the 1998 Curt Flood Act. That bill accomplished for major leaguers what Marino would now like to see for minor leaguers: it cordoned them off from the century-old antitrust exemption that otherwise applies to the business of baseball.

Last month’s letter to Advocates for Minor Leaguers was signed by committee chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, as well as by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Mike Lee, R-Utah. Such a request is often a precursor to a hearing on Capitol Hill, but the next step in the judiciary committee’s process was not immediately known. It’s possible, as well, that the senators could send a related information request to the commissioner’s office. Congress has many times before threatened MLB’s antitrust exemption, only to ultimately allow it to remain.

MLB did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As a practical matter, the Curt Flood Act of 1998 could be considered redundant for major-league players, because big leaguers have a union and a collective bargaining agreement. Labor law presides in that circumstance, rather than antitrust law. (But, the Curt Flood Act did newly give major-league players a potential option to disband their union and pursue litigation under antitrust law, something that has happened in other sports, but not baseball.)

Minor leaguers, however, do not have a union, making the impact of a similar act tailored to their group potentially much greater.

“The time has now come for Congress to expand the scope of the Curt Flood Act,” Marino wrote.

A full repeal of MLB’s antitrust exemption could impact matters such as franchise location, the sale of teams and licensing, Marino wrote. A more limited repeal of the exemption tailored to minor-league players — he suggested the name, the “Minor League Curt Flood Act” — would additionally impact MLB’s ability to uniformly determine the number of minor league teams that can affiliate with major league franchises. The league removed 40 teams from the traditional umbrella of minor league affiliates ahead of the 2021 season.

“This would render illegal the entire Minor League Conspiracy — both (1) the owners’ agreement to suppress Minor League player wages and working conditions and (2) the owners’ agreement to artificially limit the number of Minor League teams and in turn the overall number of Minor League players,” Marino wrote.

The judiciary committee’s inquiry into the antitrust exemption at least has the shine of something more serious than some prior attempts to challenge the exemption because it is bipartisan.

“This bipartisan request for information will help inform the Committee about the impact of this exemption, especially when it comes to Minor League and international prospects,” Durbin said in a statement accompanying the information request last month. “We need to make sure that all professional ballplayers get to play on a fair and level field.”

Said Grassley in a statement at the time: “MLB’s special antitrust exemption shouldn’t be imposing labor or contraction problems for Minor League teams and players. Baseball is America’s pastime, and that means more than just the Major Leagues.”

Advocate group calls for bill shielding minor-league players from MLB's antitrust exemption - The Athletic View Story

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