I wondered when this lawsuit was going to drop. When Major League Baseball took over minor league operations and effectively squeezed out 40 minor league teams last year in favor of what it viewed as a more streamlined and functional minor league system, there were a lot of formerly-affiliated clubs that were bound to be crushed by the decision. You can still operate your “professional” baseball team, but the difference between being an independent club and one that is affiliated with a Major League organization is enormous.
Thus, a lawsuit from four of the minor league clubs that lost their MLB affiliations:
— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) December 20, 2021
Any lawsuit that challenges Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption is newsworthy, as the ramifications for the sport could be significant. As you may recall, MLB possesses a (legally-bizarre) exemption from United States antitrust laws, which allows the entity and its owners to engage in behavior that could otherwise be deemed anticompetitive and illegal. It’s an exemption that has been challenged a number of times over the years (including recently in relation to minor league pay), but has never been struck down by the courts.
Odds are good that this latest suit will also be ineffective, though Craig Calcaterra points out that getting attention might be the real focus:
That's from 1953's Toolson v. New York Yankees case. The Court reiterated that line of reasoning in the Curt Flood case. Courts are going to punt this to Congress again. My guess is minor league clubs know this and are suing to get publicity for a settlement.
— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) December 20, 2021
Ultimately, MLB will move to dismiss the suit on the exemption grounds, and they’ll likely win that motion to dismiss based on precedent. Then, if the minor league plaintiffs have the stomach, they can appeal up the ladder to try to get the exemption eliminated.
Even if they go that route – or even if MLB’s motion to dismiss is denied – there’s no way MLB is going to risk actually losing its antitrust exemption. They would settle this case long before that could actually happen. The kind of suit that could threaten the antitrust exemption would have to be one with much, much higher financial stakes (think players versus owners, billions of dollars, etc.).