MLB Commissioner Bud Selig speaks during a news conference in New York

MLB’s takeover of the Dodgers could imperil baseball’s antitrust exemption


Yesterday I noted that Major League Baseball may be wary of a fight with Frank McCourt because it has a lot of rules with respect to club ownership that exist simply because owners agree to them and that, if challenged, there are likely several that wouldn’t hold up in court.  One of them — Major League Baseball’s putative right to approve who buys a team and enters the ownership club — could be seriously jeopardized in all of this.

You know how it works: a team goes on the market and the bidders line up. Before the deal is done, MLB “approves” the winning ownership group. And that group is not necessarily the highest bidder. There is much talk, however, about who Bud Selig likes and who he doesn’t, who is friends with Jerry Reinsdorf and who isn’t and that sort of thing. This is the step where Mark Cuban’s ambitions get thwarted.  It’s also a step that probably violates antitrust laws and, according to the only court that has ever considered the matter, does not fall into baseball’s more-limited-than-you-think antitrust exemption.

Flash back 18 years to the case of Piazza v. Major League Baseball (831 F. Supp. 420 (E.D. Pa. 1993) for those of you who care), in which some gentlemen from Pennsylvania tried to buy the San Francisco Giants and move them to Florida. Then-Giants’ owner Bob Lurie was going to sell, but MLB stepped in and indicated that it would not approve the sale. The buyers sued, arguing (among other things) that baseball illegally restrained free trade in the market in which baseball teams are bought and sold. Baseball argued that it was allowed to do this pursuant to the antitrust exemption.

The trial court agreed with the would-be buyers during the preliminary stages of that case, ruling that the antitrust exemption didn’t apply to the purchase of teams.

Granted, this wasn’t a final decision on the merits. Rather, the court basically ruled that if the plaintiffs could prove that MLB wrongfully thwarted the sale — say, that baseball had no legitimate business basis for excluding a potential ownership group –they could win. Of course it never got that far. Having seen that its antitrust exemption was in peril, baseball settled with the plaintiffs, paying them $6 million for their trouble, and the case went away and does not now serve as any sort of binding precedent.

Since that time, baseball has continued to approve or deny “ownership applications” as though they were country club memberships as opposed to the restraint of the sale of goods in a free market. It has been able to get away with this because, to my knowledge, no current owner selling a team has challenged baseball’s ability to approve buyers — remember, they themselves got into the club through this very process — and, with no dispute, there can be no court case. Both the Cubs and the Rangers sales had the potential for this inasmuch the team sales were thrown into court, but neither instance created a situation in which the selling owner wanted to sell to A, but baseball wanted to sell to B.

So, back to the present: Frank McCourt is making serious noises about suing Major League Baseball. No matter how this all shakes out, it’s hard to see it ending in any way other than a sale of the Dodgers.  As is suggested by the legal experts cited in today’s article from Bill Shaikin in the Los Angeles Times, the only way that McCourt won’t sue over the specifics of the sale is if baseball agrees to take the highest bidder.  If that highest bidder isn’t someone Bud Selig wants to let in his club — say, I dunno, some skeezy businessman from some unpronounceable former Soviet Republic who is on record saying that he wants to give out the biggest free agent contracts in recorded history — Selig could have a serious dilemma on his hands:  allow a potential maverick (Maverick?)  into the club or risk re-litigating the Piazza case.

I want to see Frank McCourt gone and I want to see a responsible owner in Los Angeles with a minimum of fuss.  But boy howdy, it would be fun to see Major League Baseball’s anti-competitive practices blown away too, so I can’t say that I, as a popcorn-eating gawker to all of this, will be disappointed either way.

David Ortiz and Kris Bryant win 2016 Hank Aaron Awards

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  (L-R) Kris Bryant #17 of the Chicago Cubs, Major League Baseball Hall of Famer 2016 Hank Aaron, Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred and David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox pose during the Hank Aaron Award ceremony prior to Game Two of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Major League Baseball announced on Wednesday that former Red Sox DH David Ortiz and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant won the 2016 Hank Aaron Award in their respective leagues.

Ortiz, 40, flourished in his final season, batting .315/.401/.620 with 38 home runs and 127 RBI in 626 plate appearances during the regular season. His .620 slugging percentage, 1.021 OPS, and 48 doubles led the majors while his 127 RBI led the American League. Ortiz also won the Hank Aaron Award back in 2005.

Bryant, 24, is the likely winner of the National League Most Valuable Player Award as well. He hit .292/.385/.554 with 39 home runs and 102 RBI over 699 plate appearances. He also led the league by scoring 121 runs. Bryant is the first Cub to win the Hank Aaron Award since Aramis Ramirez in 2008.

Last year’s winners in the AL and NL, respectively, were Josh Donaldson and Bryce Harper.

Alex Rodriguez is taking his analyst role quite seriously

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 12: Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees answers question in a press conference after the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on August 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

If you’ve happened to catch any of the coverage of the 2016 postseason on Fox and FS1, you’ve heard former Yankees DH Alex Rodriguez as part of an analyst panel with host Kevin Burkhardt and former major leaguers Pete Rose and Frank Thomas. Rodriguez has drawn rave reviews not just for passing a rather low bar we set for former athletes-turned-commentators, but because he’s adding real insight drawn both from his playing days and from doing research.

Indeed, Rodriguez is taking his new job as an analyst quite seriously, Newsday’s Neil Best reports. Bardia Shah-Rais, the VP of production for Fox, said of Rodriguez, “This is not a hobby for him. It’s not a parachute in. He’s invested. If we have a noon meeting, he’s there at 11:30 a.m. He’s emailing story ideas in the morning. He wants research. He’s almost all-in to the point where it’s annoying.”

Rose also praised Rodriguez, saying, “You’ve never been around a guy who prepares more than Alex does. Alex does his homework. He knows the game. He understands players. He’s into the deal . . . Frank does a great job in preparation, too. I’m the only one that don’t prepare as much as these two guys. I don’t know if that’s because I can’t write or what it is. But these guys do their homework and they ask questions and they ask the right questions and then you put that in with our experience, all the things we’ve been through and how good we get along with each other, that’s why it shows up on the TV.”

Rodriguez, who hasn’t officially retired despite not having played since the Yankees released him in mid-August, wouldn’t commit to more TV work beyond this year’s postseason.