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Manfred to senators: antitrust exemption stops city switches

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NEW YORK. Major League Baseball told a Senate committee that the antitrust exemption prevents teams from moving without approval and allows the sport to support the minor leagues at a broader level.

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In addition, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said that many of the conditions for hiring minor league players are determined by the Major League Baseball Players Association’s collective bargaining agreement with MLB.

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On July 18, leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Manfred to explain the impact of potential legislation repealing the sport’s antitrust exemption from the sport’s relationship with minor league players. Manfred said the letter “suggests that Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption is detrimental to minor league players and that lifting the exemption will improve their working conditions.”

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“Just the opposite is true,” Manfred wrote in a 17-page reply. “The baseball antitrust exemption has greatly improved the lives of minor league players, including terms of employment, and has allowed minor league affiliate operators to offer professional baseball in certain communities that would not otherwise be able to economically support a professional baseball team. ”

Manfred said the exclusion was due to the stability of the MLB franchise’s location. Only one MLB team has changed city since 1972: the Montreal Expos left Canada to become the Washington Nationals for the 2005 season.

“In the same period, 14 NBA franchises, 10 NFL franchises, and nine NHL franchises moved,” he said. “MLB is different from other professional sports leagues because MLB’s exemption from antitrust laws allows it to enforce a rigorous process that ensures club moves are carefully reviewed and reviewed.”

Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who is a senior member of the minority, have asked for answers along with Senator Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut, and Senator Mike Lee, a Republican. -Utah.

“Given that MLB continues to pay most minor league players poverty level wages and recently eliminated 40 minor league teams, the positions it has taken today are surprising to say the least,” Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leagueers, said in a statement. statement. “We intend to carefully consider many of the claims outlined in today’s 17-page letter and will provide a meaningful response in the coming days.”

Manfred said MLB supports 184 teams in 43 states, including minor league affiliates and partner leagues created when guaranteed farm teams were cut from 160 to 120 following the 2019 season. The figure does not include teams at training facilities in Florida, Arizona and the Dominican Republic.

“Without exception, baseball would be in far fewer communities, and without significant MLB subsidization, the cost of attending a minor league baseball game in many places would be significantly higher,” he wrote.

MLB said it spends an average of $108,000 per year per minor leaguer in wages and benefits, and 58% of selected minor leaguers — approximately 615 people per year under the current format — receive an initial signing bonus of $100,000. less than $100,000.

“Those players who don’t get big signing bonuses tend to have very short baseball careers and move on to other careers in their 20s and are truly seasonal workers who are free to find another job or continue their education during the offseason.” written by Manfred.

He said that while Minor League Advocates argued that pay and benefits would improve in the free market, “on the contrary, under such a system, better prospects … can do better.” But a much larger number of unpromising players will probably be worse.”

Baseball’s exception was introduced by the Supreme Court in the 1922 decision “Federal Baseball Club v. National League” and was limited by the Kurt Flood Act of 1998, which applied antitrust laws to MLB, affecting the hiring of major league players at the major league level.

In addition, the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 gave leagues permission to collectively sell broadcasting rights, and the Supreme Court in 1996 Brown v. Pro Football stated that there was a non-statutory exception to the antitrust law for activities subject to collective bargaining. .

“The revenues of most minor league clubs are not even sufficient to support current player salaries and benefits,” Manfred wrote. “If MLB clubs were to eliminate or reduce their financial subsidies to minor league clubs, and players were compensated at the minor league level by club operators at a level commensurate with minor league revenues, minor league player salaries and benefits would be lower, not higher.”

Senators asked about the potential impact of repealing a 2018 law that exempts minor league players from federal minimum wage and overtime laws, the Save America Act.

In documents filed this month in federal court, MLB agreed to pay $185 million to minor league players to settle a lawsuit over alleged violations of minimum wage laws. The minimum wage for players with minor league contracts is $400 per week for rookies, $500 for Class A, $600 for Double-A, and $700 for Triple-A.

Top prospects receive substantial signature bonuses. Shortstop Jackson Holliday, the top pick in this year’s draft, agreed to an $8.19 million bonus with Baltimore. The first round peak last year received $1.8 million or more, and each of the 73 players who signed among the top 75 players received at least $747,500.


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