Grow: A primer on baseball’s antitrust exemption

From SABR member Nathaniel Grow at FanGraphs on June 4, 2015:

To the extent that most fans pay any attention to legal issues relating to Major League Baseball, they are typically aware that MLB is somehow immune from antitrust law. How exactly this came to be, however, is often less well understood. And in many cases, fans may not have a firm grasp on precisely how this antitrust exemption actually affects MLB’s operations.

Having written a bit on the topic, I thought I’d begin an occasional series of posts examining baseball’s antitrust exemption to help clarify some misconceptions regarding what is admittedly a rather peculiar legal doctrine. This first post will recount the history of baseball’s exemption, dating back to its creation in 1922. Future posts will consider the current scope of the exemption – i.e., what it does and does not cover today – as well as the practical effect that the exemption has on the league.

Although some fans mistakenly think Congress granted baseball its antitrust exemption, the immunity really results from a nearly 100-year-old decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in a lawsuit arising out of the last on-field challenge to the American and National leagues’ dominance over the sport. Back in 1914 and 1915, the Federal League of Professional Baseball Clubs tried to establish itself as a third major league by signing roughly 50 major league players away from their then-current teams – the most notable of which was probably Hall-of-Fame shortstop Joe Tinker.

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Originally published: June 4, 2015. Last Updated: June 4, 2015.