It’s hard to see today’s ruling as a victory for San Jose

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I’ve taken a few minutes to gather some thoughts on today’s decision in the San Jose-MLB antitrust lawsuit. I have still not read the decision, but it does appear that the status being currently reported is accurate: (1) the argument by San Jose to have Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption struck down, thereby paving the way for the A’s to move to San Jose over the Giants’ objection has been dismissed; and (2) San Jose continues to have a viable claim against MLB for tortious interference with the city’s contract(s) with the Athletics, which will be pursued under state law.

Let’s take those one-by-one:

San Jose’s Antitrust claim

This was obviously the big target here. And a nice fat one if San Jose could’ve convinced the judge that baseball’s antitrust exemption — which prevents a team from moving into another’s territory — is stupid and wrong.  And the judge did, apparently, say that the exemption is stupid and wrong. Unfortunately he also said that he felt bound by Supreme Court precedent to uphold it, so that matter will now likely be the subject of an appeal. Major League Baseball still has risk of losing their exemption on appeal, but they just bought a year at least before an appeals court rules on it and longer than that before the matter might get to the Supreme Court, which would ultimately have to weigh in to overturn the original case which granted the exemption.

With the claims to overturn the exemption gone, at least for now, the A’s will be unable to move to San Jose. The league rule establishing San Jose as the San Francisco Giants’ territory holds, thus preventing the A’s from going to San Jose.

The state tort law claims

This is the claim alleging that MLB tortiously interfered with San Jose’s contract with the A’s. If you recall: the contract is an option agreement entered into in 2011 between the A’s owners and San Jose for the purchase of some land on which a ballpark would be built. The A’s paid San Jose $50,000 for the option. It expires soon. If they want to keep the option open for another year it’s another $25,000. If the A’s owners were to buy the land, they can do it for between $6 million and $7 million. Nothing in the option agreement, however, promises that the A’s will actually move. It doesn’t even promise that they’ll buy the land. Just that they have the option to do so.

Of course, since the antitrust exemption is in place, the A’s can’t just decide to move to San Jose. Therefore, unless they are the biggest idiots on the planet, they will not agree to commit to the $7 million land deal. Put differently, no A’s witness will get on a stand and say “yes, we totally want to give San Jose $7 million right now but MLB won’t let us!”  As such, the value of the contract that San Jose now has to prove MLB interfered with is $75,000. That’s it.

Where that leaves us

Much of the reaction in the past few hours — including opinion from legal minds I respect, such as FanGraphs’ Wendy Thurm — has it that this outcome gives San Jose leverage to force a deal with MLB to get the A’s to San Jose.  I’ll grant that they’re better off now than they would be if the whole suit had been tossed — and I do want to read their thoughts on it and may change my mind on the matter if they point out something I’m totally missing here — but I can’t see how San Jose suddenly has much more leverage than it had before.

One idea is that Major League Baseball might fear discovery and depositions that could take place.  I’ll grant that no one wants to have their deposition taken, how threatening is this really? The current claim is limited in scope: $75K on a land option. How much email traffic do you think MLB officials have had on that? And how much of it is damning? Sure, maybe there’s all kinds of stuff about how MLB is “conspiring” to keep the A’s out of San Jose, but so what? The court just ruled that, under the antitrust exemption, such behavior is totally legal!

More broadly: how dumb is Major League Baseball? Not too dumb, usually. The entire purpose of Bud’s famous committee on San Jose was to do … nothing. There are likely reports about city and stadium viability and all of that, but the reason you set up that committee is to funnel everything to it and make it disappear for half a decade. Or at least to have it sit there innocuously. It’s staffed, by the way, in part by lawyers who have worked for MLB before. You think they’re sitting on smoking guns? Hardly.

Any effort by San Jose to dig deeper than the matters specific to the A’s and their option contract is irrelevant and discovery about that stuff will be resisted. Maybe they get some things, maybe they don’t. But they don’t get the keys to all of MLB’s finances and Bud Selig’s health records and the famous list of positive PED players and Larry Baer’s grandmother’s apple fritter recipe. With limits on discovery there are limits on leverage. And with an existing claim this small, the discovery will be limited.

OK, long enough, Craig, sum it up

Having a claim hanging out there is not good for MLB. But having a trial court decision that the antitrust exemption is still the law outweighs it for now. There was pressure on MLB to avoid a bad decision on that in the trial court and that didn’t get them to the settlement table. There is now pressure, to a degree, to resolve this before an appeals court decides differently. But that’s down the road a bit, and if anything the league has more breathing room on that today than it did yesterday.

It’s a partial win for San Jose, sure. But they lost the big claim and have gained nothing in the short term. More importantly, this does nothing to get the A’s any close to San Jose.

CC Sabathia won’t visit the White House if the Yankees win the World Series

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Over the past couple of days the subject of athlete activism, always present to some degree in American sports, but recently revived by Colin Kaepernick and a few other football players in the form of silent protests during the National Anthem, exploded into a headline dominating news story. Lighting the fuse: President Trump directly inserting himself into the controversy.

He did so during a speech on Friday night and during a series of tweets Saturday and continuing into this morning in which he urged NFL owners to “fire” or suspend players who do not stand for the national anthem. He also attempted to disinvite the NBA champion Golden State Warriors from their traditional White House visit because of their star player Stephen Curry’s public opposition to him, though Curry had already said he wouldn’t go.

As Ashley wrote last night, the silent anthem protests have now come to baseball, with A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell becoming the fist player to kneel during the National Anthem. Before that, at least one baseball executive, Orioles Vice President John P. Angelos, came out strongly on the side of players and against Trump. Joe Maddon said some less-than-enlightened words on the matter. Major League Baseball issued a statement on the matter. It was, not surprisingly, somewhat empty, taking something of a both-sides-have-good-points tack. It’s understandable, I suppose. I suspect Major League Baseball and its owners would prefer to not have to comment on this at all. The league does not do this sort of controversy well.

Ballplayers, however, will likely continue to speak up. The latest: Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who was asked yesterday whether he would visit the White House if the playoff-bound Yankees won the World Series. From the Daily News:

“Never. I just don’t believe in anything that is Trump. So there wouldn’t be any reason for me to go at all. I just think it’s stupid. I just think it’s dumb that he’s addressing players and stuff that he shouldn’t be. But it is what it is, and that’s the country we live in these days . . . I’m proud of the way that everybody has Steph’s back and just athletes in general these days, the way everybody has been stepping up has been great.”

Baseball players, as we’ve noted many times over the years, tend to be a more conservative bunch than football or basketball players. There are a lot more white players and a lot more players from southern, suburban and exurban areas. A significant number of racial-ethnic minority players were not born in the United States, so U.S. politics may not necessarily preoccupy them the way it may players from the United States. As such, political protest like we’ve seen in the NFL and NBA was never going to start in baseball in 2017.

But that does not mean that it was not going to come to baseball. Contrary to what so many fans seem to think, sports do not exist inside some bubble into which the real world does not intrude. Athletes are citizens just like you and me with social, political and personal concerns just like you and me. And, at the moment, a government official is demanding that they lose their jobs because he does not agree with their political views and the manner in which they are expressed. I suspect most of us would get upset by that if it happened to us. Certainly a lot of people I know on the conservative side of the political expression worried about government overreach and freedom of speech. At least before January of this year.

So I am not at all surprised that baseball players like Sabathia are beginning to speak out. He will not be the last. Others will join him. Others, as is their right, will push back and say they disagree with him. If and when people feel inspired to tell them to “stick to sports,” or “stay in their lane,” perhaps they should ask why the President of the United States decided not to do so himself. And ask why he thinks it’s appropriate for athletes to lose their jobs for their political views and why private entities like the NFL should be patriotic institutions rather than businesses which put on sporting events.

 

Bruce Maxwell first MLB player to kneel during National Anthem

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Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell did not stand for the National Anthem on Saturday night. He’s the first MLB player to do so and, like other professional athletes before him, used the moment to send a message — not just to shed light on the lack of racial equality in the United States, but to specifically protest President Donald Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners fire any of their players who elect to protest the anthem by sitting or kneeling.

“Bruce’s father is a proud military lifer. Anyone who knows Bruce or his parents is well aware that the Maxwells’ love and appreciation for our country is indisputable,” Maxwell’s agent, Matt Sosnick, relayed to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser on Friday. He continued:

Bruce has made it clear that he is taking a stand about what he perceives as racial injustices in this country, and his personal disappointment with President Trump’s response to a number of professional athletes’ totally peaceful, non-violent protests.

Bruce has shared with both me and his teammates that his feelings have nothing to do with a lack of patriotism or a hatred of any man, but rather everything to do with equality for men, women and children regardless of race or religion.

While Maxwell didn’t make his own statement to the media, he took to Instagram earlier in the day to express his frustration against the recent opposition to the protests, criticizing the President for endorsing “division of man and rights.”

Despite Trump’s profanity-laced directive to NFL owners on Friday, however, it’s clear the Athletics don’t share his sentiments. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive,” the team said in a statement released after Maxwell’s demonstration. “We respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”

Whatever the fallout, kudos to Maxwell for taking a stand. He may be the first to do so in this particular arena, but he likely won’t be the last.