When it comes to baseball, you can trust in the anti-trust laws to leave the billionaires who run the sport pretty much alone.
U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte rejected a plea last week from San Jose city officials that they be allowed to bring a willing Oakland Athletics franchise to their city despite objections from Major League Baseball (MLB).
Baseball has held an anti-trust exemption since 1922, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the sport was not interstate commerce and was outside the law’s reach unless Congress specifically decided otherwise. Lawmakers did that in 1998, ending baseball’s exemption for labor issues, 26 years after former baseball player Curt Flood lost his fight in the Supreme Court to do it. It opened the door to free agency and changed the sport forever. No other sport has the exemption.
San Jose sued MLB after a four-year struggle to obtain the Oakland franchise. Baseball did not want the move and invoked a league rule that gave the San Francisco Giants territorial rights to the San Jose area in 1990. Each of the 30 league franchises has veto power over a club moving into its operating territory.
Judge Whyte did not overturn that rule, but he did give San Jose some hope by ruling baseball interfered with a contract the city had with the Oakland team when it delayed a vote of club owners on the proposed relocation. San Jose asked for the vote in 2009 and has yet to get it.
By indicating the San Jose lawsuit can continue and the city may be able to collect monetary damages, the judge also raised the possibility that the league may have to open its books during pretrial proceedings.
The Oakland A’s owners have been trying to move the team for years. As is often the case when sports franchises change cities, a new stadium is being offered in the suitor’s town. The Athletics have not been happy in their aged (1966) Oakland stadium for years. Back in June, a plumbing problem generated this headline: Raw Sewage on Clubhouse Level Creates Postgame Chaos. Disgusting as that was and as hot to trot as the Athletics are, owner Lew Wolff said in a statement he did not favor suing MLB.
Although the judge upheld the anti-trust exemption he reiterated his earlier opinion that the law was obsolete. “The exemption is an aberration that makes little sense given the heavily interstate nature of the business of baseball today,” Whyte said.