Advocates for Minor Leaguers Respond to MLB’s Letter



First reported by Evan Drellich of The Athletic, Advocates for Minor Leaguers have issued an in-depth response to Commissioner Rob Manfred’s letter to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. While noting the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is planning a hearing on issues within Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption, the response from Advocates for Minor Leaguers criticizes Major League Baseball’s characterization of the importance of the antitrust exemption.


Commissioner Manfred’s Letter


Commissioner Manfred’s letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee covered a range of topics impacted by the antitrust exemption. Specifically, in the 17-page letter, Commissioner Manfred stressed five points:


  1. The antitrust exemption allows many, including controlling housing, training standards, and meals for Minor League Baseball players and controlling team relocation for fans.

  2. Major League Baseball and its team owners incur costs because of Minor League Baseball.

  3. Many terms and conditions of employment are due to collective bargaining between the Major League Baseball Players Association and Major League Baseball, which avoids antitrust scrutiny due to the non-statutory labor exemption.

  4. Major League Baseball gives significant signing bonuses to players drafted in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft.

  5. If Congress removed the antitrust exemption, many communities may be left without a Minor League Baseball team because team owners would opt to train their players at their spring training facilities.


To no surprise, Commissioner Manfred’s letter took the position that keeping the antitrust exemption in place is good for all parties, including players, fans, and communities.


Advocates for Minor Leaguers Respond


Advocates for Minor Leaguers have now responded to the points in Commissioner Manfred’s letter. The three-page response highlights issues with Commissioner Manfred’s argument.


First, even if Congress removed the exemption, Major League Baseball can still engage in conduct that is positive for players. “The removal of baseball’s antitrust exemption will simply enable a federal court to decide whether each instance of MLB’s anticompetitive conduct is actually good for players and fans,” Advocates for Minor Leaguers wrote. By allowing a court to decide, Major League Baseball cannot engage in negative anticompetitive conduct, including wage-fixing.


Second, Major League Baseball ignores the effects of the work of Minor League Baseball. “[T]he development of the Major League Product . . . occurs in the Minor Leagues.” Thus, while team owners may incur costs because of Minor League teams, they reap the significant gains that the players developed in Minor League produce.


Third, the non-statutory labor exemption, which exempts agreements between and among employers and unions from antitrust liability, does not apply because Minor League Baseball does not participate in collective bargaining. This point could come into play down the road. Importantly, the Major League Baseball Players Association does not represent Minor League Baseball players.


Fourth, despite Major League Baseball giving significant signing bonuses for top-tier talent, most Minor League Baseball players earn a salary between $4,800 and $14,700 per year. For comparison, the poverty guideline, which is set by the Department of Health and Human Services, was $12,880. Thus, while some players may have earned a significant signing bonus, many are not earning a living wage.


Fifth, “[t]he most disappointing aspect of [Major League Baseball’s] letter is its baseless fear-mongering . . . ,” Advocates for Minor Leaguers wrote. Specifically, Major League Baseball takes the position that by removing the exemption, team owners will remove Minor League teams from communities, and team owners will limit roster spots. “Congress must learn a lesson from 1975 and ignore such scare tactics.”


Takeaways


Advocates for Minor Leaguers is aiming to set the record straight on the struggles of Minor League Baseball players. Minor League Baseball develops the players that go on to star in Major League Baseball. In turn, Major League Baseball and its team owners reap significant financial gains from those players. Because of the significant gains for Major League Baseball and its team owners, Advocates for Minor Leaguers, and many others, are demanding that Congress remove the antitrust exemption to eliminate lengthy contracts, wage-fixing, and other issues.


With the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee reportedly planning a hearing on the matter, the antitrust exemption will remain under the microscope.


Landis Barber is an attorney at Safran Law Offices in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or via his blog offthecourtdocket.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Landisbarber.