Baseball Fights Minor Leaguers in Court

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Major League Baseball on Thursday asked a federal judge to dismiss Minor League players’ antitrust class action lawsuit that accuses the 30 teams of conspiring with the commissioner to fix their salaries.
Lead plaintiff Sergio Miranda sued Office of the Commissioner of Baseball and the 30 Major League teams in December 2014.
Miranda claims that Major League Baseball’s reserve clause lets teams restrict Minor League players from negotiating with other teams for seven years, denying them “the freedom of movement available to players in virtually all other professional sports in the United States.”
Average salaries of Major Leaguers have risen by more than 2,000 percent since 1976, while Minor Leaguers’ pay increased by just 75 percent, according to the original complaint.
Major Leaguers have a union and collective bargaining rights, but Minor Leaguers have no union, no collective bargaining and no free agency.
During a motion to dismiss hearing Thursday, baseball’s attorney said the U.S. Supreme Court has held repeatedly and consistently that Major League Baseball is exempt from antitrust regulation.
“Minor League issues by definition fall under the definition of the business of baseball,” said Robert Lauridsen, with Keker & Van Nest. “The claims should be barred.”
But the Minor Leaguers’ attorney Samuel Kornhauser said the cases cited by the Major League are overbroad and do not apply to minor league players.
“This whole business of the baseball exemption is founded on quicksand,” Kornhauser said. “There’s no basis there. The king doesn’t have any clothes.”
Kornhauser said the decision to exempt baseball from antitrust claims was predicated on baseball not being engaged in interstate commerce, though the Supreme Court acknowledges that baseball is involved in interstate commerce.
In its motion to dismiss, the league cited the Ninth Circuit’s January ruling in City of San Jose v. Comm’r of Baseball, which stated that baseball’s antitrust exemption covers “the ‘entire business of providing public baseball games for profit between clubs of professional baseball players.'”
U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. told Kornhauser that that ruling does “directly govern the case here,” and asked why he should not be bound by the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning.
Kornhauser said the San Jose case concerned a different issue – the relocation of the Oakland A’s team – and did not address compensation for Minor League players.
In the motion to dismiss, the league claims the Curt Flood Act, passed by Congress in 1998, “expressly left the antitrust exemption intact for Minor League labor issues.”
Kornhauser called the Flood Act argument “a red herring,” saying that neither that law nor “incorrectly decided” cases make Major League Baseball exempt from antitrust laws.
Curt Flood is the major figure in baseball labor history. He refused to be traded after the 1969 season and took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he lost. He became a pariah to owners, despite being a three-time All Star, a seven-time Golden Glove winner in center field, and a lifetime .293 hitter. But his legal fight led to Major Leaguers winning free agency and forcing the Major Leagues to modify its reserve clause.
Kornhauser decried the situation facing Minor League players compared to their Major league counterparts.
“Major League Baseball has a union, has collective bargaining, arbitration, lobbyists,” Kornhauser said. “Minor League players don’t have anything. The only thing they have is the Clayton Act and the Sherman Act. Unless Congress passes a law saying the Sherman Act doesn’t apply to Minor League baseball, it does.”
Gilliam concluded the hearing after about 40 minutes of arguments.

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