Unfortunately that one person is ESPN’s legal analyst Lester Munson who, as we and many others have noted over the years, tends to get things pretty darn wrong pretty darn often. You won’t be shocked to hear that I feel like he’s off on this one too.
To be fair, he is half right. He analyzes Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption and notes just how anomalous it is. He also notes that, in the right case, the Supreme Court would probably overturn the old Federal Baseball Club vs. National League case which gave us the antitrust exemption in the first place. It’s really a piece or garbage precedent. Where he’s wrong is in thinking that this is the right case.
As I mentioned the other day, the biggest hurdle to San Jose’s suit is getting its arguments heard on the merits in the first place. That’s because, in my view and the view of many others, San Jose lacks legal standing to assert a claim against Major League Baseball and hasn’t alleged any actual damages, as opposed to speculative ones. San Jose claims it will lose money if the A’s are not relocated there. It has made no allegation, however, that it actually has been damaged by any act of Major League Baseball. Munson makes no mention of this whatsoever.
He does mention the American Needle vs. National Football League, case, however. This is one that should come up a lot in talking about the San Jose case, so here’s the quick and dirty: American Needle made NFL-logo merchandise for various teams. The NFL then said, nope, all merch will now be made by Reebok and Reebok only. American Needle sued, saying that the NFL’s anticompetitive act — 32 teams and the league conspiring to shut out competitors to Reebok — violated the law and caused its existing contracts to go bye-bye. American Needle won that case, with the Supreme Court pounding the NFL’s claim to antitrust protection 9-0.
Here’s the difference, though: American Needle had a contract with NFL teams. It had a vested financial interest in doing business with these guys. Then the NFL came in and said “sorry, you’re shut out.” It had something then lost something by virtue of the NFL’s action. San Jose has no similar interest or damage. It has a contract with the A’s that gives the A’s the option to purchase some land. The terms of that contract are entirely fulfillable without MLB doing anything. The A’s have paid San Jose the $50,000 the contract asks for. The A’s have not, by any report whatsoever, moved or attempted to move to actually buy land in San Jose, let alone move the team there. More importantly, the A’s are not a plaintiff in this suit. If they were I think it would be a totally different ballgame and MLB would be in big trouble. But that hasn’t happened.
There is always a chance a judge will go off the reservation and make a surprising ruling. As such, sure, there is a chance that San Jose’s suit goes farther than I think it will (and man, I hope it will). But that’s pretty unlikely. And no matter the odds, Munson makes no mention of Major League Baseball’s possible defenses at all, let alone that they have some pretty stout defenses. There is not one passage in his column noting that, just maybe, the San Jose lawsuit isn’t a slam dunk. If a first year law student provided an analysis like Munson’s on a civil procedure exam he’d probably get a D, at best.
If you just read Munson’s analysis and nothing else — and given that he writes for the biggest sports media company on the planet, many probably have — you’d get a pretty skewed idea of what’s going on here. And the fact that ESPN continues to be cool with that sort of thing from him is frankly amazing.