Baseball and the Supreme Court

One hundred years ago, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Federal Baseball Club v. National League on May 29, 1922 — a ruling that granted Major League Baseball exemption from the antitrust laws of the United States.

MLB is the only professional sports league in North America that continues to hold blanket immunity, although others enjoy limited immunity in regard to television rights.

Since 1922, MLB’s antitrust exemption has been upheld twice by the Supreme Court: in Toolson v. New York Yankees, Inc. (1953) and Flood v. Kuhn (1972).

Fifty years ago, Curt Flood’s landmark case — in which he challenged the reserve clause system that tied players to their original team forever — helped set in motion the establishment of free agency for all major leaguers in the 1970s.

What would happen if Congress or the Supreme Court were to strip MLB of its monopoly privilege? Television contracts, geographic exclusivity, memorabilia and sponsorship deals, and the affiliated minor leagues would all be profoundly affected in a truly competitive market.

Exemption from antitrust laws reaches far more areas of the baseball business than just player contracts. While players have largely unfettered themselves from the reserve clause chains, MLB still profits handsomely from its status as a legal monopoly. In no small part, it helps explain why the value of its franchises collectively tops an estimated $60 billion in 2022, a century after Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. delivered the majority opinion in the Federal Baseball case.

— Michael Haupert

SABR’s Century Committee invites you to join us for an exploration of Baseball and the Supreme Court:



Special thanks to all of our contributors for SABR’s Baseball and the Supreme Court Project.

  • Project Manager: Sharon Hamilton
  • Project Editors: Alan B. Cohen, Robert Elias, Michael Haupert, Daniel R. Levitt, Mike McCullough, Emmanuel Mehr, Tim Odzer, John Racanelli, Jason Schwartz, Stew Thornley, and Nick Vossbrink
  • Web Designer: Jacob Pomrenke
  • Authors and Contributors: Roger Abrams, Samuel Alito, Paul Brown, Dan Busby, Alan B. Cohen, Warren Corbett, Ross E. Davies, Ed Edmonds, Robert Elias, Nathaniel Grow, Stephen D. Guschov, Gary Hailey, Michael Haupert, Bill Johnson, Bill Lamb, Daniel R. Levitt, Lee Lowenfish, Mike McCullough, Emmanuel Mehr, Tim Odzer, Sam Pathy, John Racanelli, Stephen V. Rice, Jason Schwartz, Ron Selter, Terry Sloope, Stew Thornley, Fay Vincent, and Nick Vossbrink