NEW YORK — Major League Baseball told a Senate committee planning a hearing on the sport’s antitrust exemption that it was preventing teams from moving without approval and allowing the sport to maintain minor league play at a broad level.
Additionally, Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said many of the minor leaguers’ terms of employment are determined by the Major League Baseball Players Association‘s collective bargaining agreement with MLB.
Senate Judiciary Committee leaders asked Manfred on July 18 to explain the impact of potential legislation removing 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 removing the exemption would improve their working conditions.”
“The opposite is true,” Manfred wrote in a 17-page response. “The Baseball Antitrust Exemption has significantly improved the lives of minor league players, including their terms of employment, and allowed operators of minor league affiliates to bring professional baseball to certain communities that otherwise would not could not economically sustain a professional baseball team.”
Manfred said the exemption was responsible for the stability of the MLB franchise location. Only one MLB team has changed cities since 1972, with the Montreal Expos leaving Canada to become the Washington Nationals for the 2005 season.
“During the same period, 14 NBA, 10 NFL and 9 NHL franchises moved,” he said. “MLB differs from other professional sports leagues because MLB’s antitrust exemption allows it to apply a rigorous process that ensures club relocation is carefully reviewed and approved.”
Sen. Richard Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa who is the ranking minority member, demanded the answers with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut , and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Durbin said Friday that the Judiciary Committee intends to hold a hearing.
“It is reasonable to question the premise that MLB treats minor leaguers fairly,” Durbin said in a statement. “Commissioner Manfred’s response to our bipartisan request for information raises more questions than it answers, and the discrepancies between today’s letter and the reality faced by minor league players reinforce the importance of the committee’s bipartisan review.”
Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, planned to review Manfred’s letter.
“Given that MLB continues to pay most minor league players poverty wages and recently eliminated 40 minor league teams, the positions it took today are surprising to say the least,” said Marina in a statement.
Manfred said MLB supports 184 teams in 43 states, including minor league affiliates and partner leagues launched when guaranteed farm teams were reduced from 160 to 120 after the 2019 season. The figure does not include training complex teams in Florida, Arizona and the Dominican Republic.
“Without the exemption, there would be baseball in far fewer communities, and without substantial MLB subsidies, the cost of attending a minor league baseball game would be significantly higher in many locations,” he said. he wrote.
MLB said it spends an average of $108,000 a year for each minor leaguer on salary and benefits and that 58% of drafted minor leaguers — about 615 each year under the current format — receive an initial signing bonus of $100,000. at least $100,000.
“Players who don’t get bigger signing bonuses will typically have very short baseball careers and transition to other careers in their early 20s and are true seasonal employees who are free to get another job. or continue their education in the offseason,” Manfred wrote.
He said that while Advocates for Minor Leaguers argues that wages and benefits would improve in a free market, “on the contrary, in such a system the brightest hopes … might do better. But the much larger numbers of non-potential players would make it worse.”
The baseball exemption was created by the Supreme Court in the 1922 Federal Baseball Club v. National League decision and was limited by the Curt Flood Act of 1998, which applied antitrust laws to MLB affecting player employment major leagues at the major league level.
In addition, the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 allowed leagues to collectively sell broadcast rights and the Supreme Court in the 1996 case of Brown v. Pro Football said there is a non-statutory exemption from antitrust law for activities governed by a collective bargaining relationship.
“The revenues of most minor league clubs are insufficient to support even current player salaries and benefits,” Manfred wrote. “If MLB clubs eliminated or reduced their financial subsidy to minor league clubs and players were compensated at the minor league level by club operators at a level commensurate with minor league revenue, player salaries and benefits minor leagues would be lower, not higher.”
Senators asked about the potential impact of the repeal of 2018 legislation exempting minor league players from federal minimum wage and overtime laws — the Save America’s Pastime Act.
MLB agreed in documents filed this month in federal court to pay minor leaguers $185 million to settle a lawsuit alleging violations of minimum wage laws. Minimum salaries for players with minor league contracts are $400 per week at rookie ball, $500 in Class A, $600 in Double-A and $700 in Triple-A.
The best prospects receive substantial signing bonuses. Shortstop Jackson Holliday, the first pick in this year’s draft, accepted an $8.19 million bonus with Baltimore. First-round picks last year received $1.8 million and more, and each of the 73 players who signed among the top 75 picks received at least $747,500.