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Baseball Plays by Different Laws


Judge Gerald A. Williams
North Valley Justice of the Peace

Spring Training is literally in full swing. Fifteen major league baseball teams are currently playing games at ten stadium locations in Maricopa County. However, unlike the NFL or the NBA, baseball does not have to follow one major set of federal laws.

Baseball is the only major American professional sport that is exempt from federal antitrust laws. Some of us may vaguely remember hearing about the Sherman Antitrust Act in high school; but generally antitrust laws are designed to discourage monopolies and price-fixing (among other things).

When Congress passed antitrust legislation, it did so to target specific industries. Baseball was not on the list. When this issue was litigated, none other than Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in 1922 that antitrust legislation should not apply to baseball because the games were “purely state affairs” that had nothing to do with interstate commerce. Times have changed.          

One recent industry study claimed that Spring Training generates an economic impact of $809 million for Arizona. In response to a survey, two-thirds of the out-of-town fans stated that spring training was their primary reason for visiting Arizona. Even so, the antitrust exemption remains.

Every appellate court that has decided this issue has noted that Congress could certainly change the law, if it wanted to do so. Given that it has not, there has been no reason yet for the judicial branch to do so.

In a somewhat odd opinion, Justice Harry Blackman began his 1972 opinion in Flood v. Kuhn, with a tribute to baseball and a list of especially significant players. The Supreme Court usually does not endorse an industry. Perhaps in contrast, people would be justifiably concerned if an intellectual property opinion began with a discussion of the importance of Apple merchandise and a list of which products a justice had historically liked.    

There is potentially a new development in this area. The Oakland As would like to move to San Jose. Major League Baseball has essentially blocked the move. In response, the San Jose City Council filed a lawsuit. Baseball team owners apparently oppose the move because San Jose is within an area considered to be the operating territory of the San Francisco Giants.       

Thus far, San Jose has lost; but they are appealing the case. Until further notice, play ball.             

Judge Williams is the justice of the peace for the North Valley Justice Court.  His column appears monthly in The Foothills Focus.