First reported by Evan Drellich of The Athletic, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has responded to the letter from the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, which questioned the impact of Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption on Minor League Baseball. Commissioner Manfred’s response paints a different picture of the antitrust exemption’s impact than the response submitted by Harry Marino, Executive Director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers.
Commissioner Manfred issued a 17-page response to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. Thus, Commissioner Manfred covers multiple topics, including Major League Baseball attempting to add an international draft, which is currently off the table due to the league failing to reach an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Associations (MLBPA).
In Marino’s response to a similar letter from the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, Marino notes that the uniform player contract is a byproduct of the antitrust exemption. The uniform player contract limits a Minor League baseball player’s ability to negotiate better living conditions and better wages.
In response, Commissioner Manfred recognizes that all professional sports have a uniform player contract, and the terms and conditions are the “product of collective bargaining with the Major League Baseball Players Association [“MLBPA”] and therefore qualify for the non-statutory labor exemption to the antitrust laws.” Moreover, Commissioner Manfred notes that Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft is a product of collective bargaining with the MLBPA. “Thus, because many of the most significant terms and conditions of employment for Minor League players are the product of collective bargaining with the [MLBPA], removing the baseball exemption would not subject them to antitrust scrutiny because of the non-statutory labor exemption,” Commissioner Manfred wrote.
Commissioner Manfred highlighted a number of benefits that the antitrust exemption allows Major League baseball to control, including housing, training standards, benefits, and meals.
Another point Commissioner Manfred harped on is that by allowing Major League Baseball to require each team to have four Minor League affiliates, Minor League players actually benefit. If the government removed the antitrust exemption and teams were allowed to make their own decisions, teams may disaffiliate with minor league teams and move their development system to their spring training complexes in Florida or Arizona, which would limit opportunities for players and deprive Minor League baseball communities of their team.
A final point that Commissioner Manfred considered important: due to the antitrust exemption, only one Major League Baseball team has relocated to another market in the last 50 years. Other professional leagues have had multiple teams relocate to other markets in the same time period. The antitrust exemption allows Major League Baseball to prevent fan bases from losing their teams.
Overall, Commissioner Manfred pins many of the issues with Minor League baseball on collective bargaining between Major League Baseball and the MLBPA. Further, Commissioner Manfred flips the script and paints the antitrust exemption as a benefit to communities due to Major League Baseball controlling the amount of Minor League teams and the location of Major League teams. However, the story remains the same, Minor League baseball players are consistently underpaid, subject to lengthy contracts, and subject to suboptimal living conditions. Now, it is up to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee to change the narrative.