A lawsuit with big baseball-on-TV implications goes to trial next week

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Next week, a lawsuit captioned Garber v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball goes to trial. We’ve talked about it briefly in the past, but it’s an easy case to forget about given that it deals with antitrust and broadcast rights and stuff like that. It’s tremendously significant, however, and the fact that it has neither been settled nor dismissed before now means that the way baseball is broadcast could be radically altered in the very near future.

The short version of things is that a certified class of baseball fans is suing Major League Baseball, claiming that its broadcast policies — particularly broadcast territories and attendant blackout rules — illegally limit competition and consumer choice. Major League Baseball is arguing that such restrictions are, in the aggregate, better for consumers and ensure that more baseball games are broadcast.

You may scoff at baseball’s argument at first blush — how can restrictions lead to more of a product and/or a better product? — but it’s not ridiculous. If the restrictions were gone, perhaps the Yankees or the Red Sox become nationally broadcast teams? Perhaps a small market team, without a protected territory, decides it can’t make money broadcasting games, thus leading to a limited number of games for the fans of that team? Of course, that’s just Major League Baseball’s argument. All of us, as fans, can tell stories of the ridiculous and Kafkaesque nature of baseball’s blackouts and territorial restrictions which make watching the teams we want to see much harder and/or much more expensive than it should be.

Those are just the thumbnail sketches of the case. For a good, thorough analysis of it all, I highly, highly recommend that you go read Nathaniel Grow’s story on the case over at FanGraphs, where he breaks it down six ways from Sunday. Really, this is must-read material here.

It’s a bench trial, meaning that the judge, not a jury, will be making the decision here. For what it’s worth, Dan McLaughlin, an attorney/baseball writer/political writer who is familiar with the judge on this case just said that “knowing Judge [Shira] Scheindlin, expect a lengthy & detailed opinion; she won’t be afraid to break new ground.” There is no money at stake here, but Major League Baseball could be ordered at the end of this trial to change its broadcasting practices.

Stay tuned. Assuming you’re not blacked out, of course.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.