MLB’s century-old antitrust exemption is called into question by a bipartisan group of US Senators


MLB’s century-old antitrust exemption is called into question by a bipartisan group of US Senators over concerns about the policy’s impact on the working conditions for minor leaguers

  • The century-old antitrust exemption that allows MLB to operate a legal monopoly in the US is being questioned by a bipartisan group of senators
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee addressed its concerns in a public-facing letter
  • It marks the federal government’s first major move to question the legality of the antitrust exemption, which existed since a 1922 Supreme Court decision
  • The Committee is question the exemptions role in suppressing minor league wages and hindering working conditions for minor league players

The century-old antitrust exemption that allows Major League Baseball to operate a legal monopoly in the United States is being questioned by a bipartisan group of senators, who are seeking to address concerns about the policy’s impact on the game and working conditions for minor league players.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee addressed a letter detailing its concerns to Advocates for Minor Leaguers, a group dedicated to improving living and working conditions for minor league players, who are at the mercy of MLB.

A spokesperson for Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office did not immediately respond to DailyMail.com’s request for comment.  

General view of the field and fans in the grandstands during a Triple-A Minor League Baseball game between the Reno Aces and the Las Vegas Aviators on April 10. The century-old antitrust exemption that allows Major League Baseball to operate a legal monopoly in the United States is being questioned by a bipartisan group of senators, who are seeking to address concerns about the policy's impact on the game and working conditions for minor league players

General view of the field and fans in the grandstands during a Triple-A Minor League Baseball game between the Reno Aces and the Las Vegas Aviators on April 10. The century-old antitrust exemption that allows Major League Baseball to operate a legal monopoly in the United States is being questioned by a bipartisan group of senators, who are seeking to address concerns about the policy’s impact on the game and working conditions for minor league players

A spokesperson for Commissioner Rob Manfred's office did not immediately respond to DailyMail.com's request for comment

A spokesperson for Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office did not immediately respond to DailyMail.com’s request for comment

The letter was signed by a bipartisan group of senators, including Dick Durbin (Democrat-Illinois), Chuck Grassley (Republican-Iowa), Richard Blumenthal (Democrat-Connecticut) and Mike Lee (Republican-Utah). It marks the federal government’s first major move to question the legality of the antitrust exemption, which has been in effect since a 1922 Supreme Court decision. The exemption has since withstood two challenges in the Supreme Court (1953 and 1972) and a separate challenge in 2017 was stopped in the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

‘We write to seek 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,’ read the letter.

Durbin, Grassley, Blumenthal and Lee specifically seek to learn how removing the exemption could help minor leaguers, many of whom have lived in cramped conditions on meagre pay while they chase their dreams of playing in the Majors. (MLB did pledge to improve living conditions in 2022 by enacting a housing policy that requires teams to provide furnished accommodations with a single bed per player and no more than two players per bedroom).

The Committee’s letter also questions the impact the exemption has on work stoppages, like the owner-enacted lockout that delayed the ongoing 2022 season, and its role in requiring minor leaguers to sign a uniform player contract, which grants teams extensive control of players’ contractual rights. Furthermore, the Committee is also concerned about corruption within the market for international prospects and what, if any, role the exemption has in perpetuating the issues.

‘We need to examine how Major League Baseball’s 100-year-old antitrust exemption is affecting the operation of minor league baseball teams and the ability of minor league ballplayers to make a decent living,’ wrote Durbin.

‘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. We need to make sure that all professional ballplayers get to play on a fair and level field.’

Grassley expressed his concern for minor leaguers in his contribution to the letter.

‘This is about ensuring a level playing for the minor leagues and its players,’ he wrote. ‘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.’

MLB is the only of America’s four major professional team sports leagues that has an antitrust exemption, which allows the league to suppress wages and otherwise avoid federal anti-monopoly laws.

By allowing for the uniform player contract, MLB’s antitrust exemption prevents minor leaguers from seeking better pay with another franchise. As a result, minor leaguers are making between $4,800 and $15,400 in 2022. (The federal poverty threshold in most states is $13,590 in salary)

‘Minor league players are far and away the group most negatively impacted by baseball’s antitrust exemption,’ Advocates for Minor Leaguers director Harry Marino said in a statement on Tuesday. ‘MLB owners should not have a special license to underpay their workers. We are confident that Congress will recognize as much through this process and, ultimately, repeal baseball’s antitrust exemption as it relates to issues concerning minor league players.’

Lee has previously introduced legislation called the Competition in Professional Baseball Act aimed at removing the exemption, and received support from several Republicans, including Ted Cruz (Texas) and Josh Hawley (Missouri).

‘There’s no reason that Major League Baseball should be treated any differently than any other professional sports leagues in America,’ Lee said last year. ‘No reason why they ought to have preferential treatment relative to the NFL, or the NBA, or any other professional athletic organization.’

After successfully lobbying Congress to exempt minor leaguers from federal minimum wage laws, MLB did raise wages between 38 percent and 72 percent when the minor leagues returned in 2021 from a one-season absence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Players at rookie levels saw the weekly minimum rise from $290 to $400, players at Class A from $290 to $500, at Double-A from $350 to $600 and at Triple-A from $502 to $700. Players are paid only in-season.

The minor league minimum was $46,600 last season for a player signing his first major league contract and $93,000 for a player signing a second or later major league contract. For players in the major leagues, the minimum was $570,500. 

While teams generally arrange for hotel accommodations for road trips, players largely had been left to find their own housing for homestands until MLB updated its housing policy. 

The level of assistance provided by teams varies widely – lower-level affiliates sometimes arrange host families for younger players, and some organizations have offered housing stipends to some or all players. 

The Houston Astros are believed to have become the first team in baseball to provide furnished apartments to all players when they did so for the 2021 season.

But mostly, players are left to handle housing on their own, usually seeking short-term leases on little notice with a limited budget. It’s not uncommon for teammates to overcrowd apartments and sleep on air mattresses. One player and his girlfriend in 2019 even took the unusual step of living in a renovated school bus. 

With the help of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, players have circulated videos and pictures on social media showing their living conditions. 

In many cases, players were packed into hotel rooms. In one, members of the St. Lous Cardinals Double-A affiliate in Springfield, Missouri were seen sleeping on the floor of a hotel conference room. 

Another player shared videos of the setup in his car, where he had been sleeping. 

The players who submitted the videos to Advocates for Minor Leaguers were not named, for fear of reprisals. 

To raise awareness of the issues, players in the Mets and Phillies organizations staged an on-field protest in 2021 by wearing teal wristbands.

The demonstration was organized in part by Advocates for Minor Leaguers, which also handed out pamphlets to fans with suggestions for how MLB could treat minor leaguers better. 

In a previous statement, the group called out MLB’s anti-monopoly exemption as a key factor in reducing minor leaguers’ compensation and living conditions.  

Several Major Leaguers have rushed to the aid of their minor league counterparts amid the economic crunch of the pandemic. Most notably, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price donated $1,000 to each of the franchise’s minor leaguers in 2020 when their season was canceled.  

MLB took over operation of the minors from the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues and cut minor league affiliates from 162 to 120 for this past season. 

In response  to the contraction, four minor league teams sued MLB in federal court over accusations of anticompetitive behavior.

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