The daily blow-by-blow of the legal battle involving the sale of the Texas Rangers has gotten so technical and boring that it’s understandable if you’ve tuned out by now. But the big picture is still a fascinating one. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of it all is that, at its heart, the Rangers sale is all about Major League Baseball insisting and expecting that it be allowed to act differently than just about any other business in America.
As the New York Times’ Richard Sandomir and Ken Belson report in a nice 10,000-foot view article today, baseball doesn’t expect its owners to sell to the high bidder and it doesn’t expect to have to explain why the lower bidder should win. Except now it’s in federal court, and federal judges are decidedly hostile to anyone who expects them to uphold and apply self-interested and economically illogical policies like that.
I blame Oliver Wendell Holmes. He’s the guy who gave baseball its antitrust exemption all those years ago, thereby infusing its leaders with the belief that the laws really don’t apply to them, even beyond the relatively narrow — and increasingly narrowing — confines of Holmes’ original exemption. It’s what led to the owners treating the players like cattle long after labor enlightenment came to the rest of the workforce. It’s what has helped foster the clubby and insular environment in which owners operate even until today.
Sad really. And though I think it’s asking too much for the Rangers’ bankruptcy to blow baseball’s antiquated and anti-competitive system to bits, I think it will serve as an important step in that direction.