Mar 24, 2022 - Sports

Bernie Sanders challenges MLB's antitrust exemption

Illustration of a baseball with the stitching coming apart revealing a dollar bill inside

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

MLB's antitrust exemption turns 100 this May. If Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) has his way, it won't reach 101.

Driving the news: Sanders on Tuesday introduced the Save American Baseball Act. If passed, MLB wouldn't have as much free rein to conduct business as it sees fit — particularly in the minor leagues.

The big picture: MLB is the only league that enjoys this exemption, and politicians have frequently threatened to revoke it following events they view as unsavory (lockouts, minor league contraction, etc.).

Catch up quick: In 1915, the Baltimore Terrapins of the upstart Federal League sued MLB for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which prohibits anticompetitive business practices.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court in 1922 unanimously ruled in MLB's favor, arguing baseball games were local affairs, not interstate commerce.
  • The decision has been challenged through the years, most famously in Curt Flood's 1972 case arguing for free agency, but has always been upheld by the Supreme Court.

State of play: As it stands, MLB can legally squash rival leagues, prohibit franchise relocation to markets it doesn't want teams to enter and suppress minor league wages.

  • If the exemption were revoked, minor leaguers could negotiate contracts in a way that would effectively end the current system.
  • MLB also wouldn't have been able to unilaterally contract 42 minor league franchises as it did in 2020 (one of which was Sanders' local single-A team, the Vermont Lake Monsters).
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