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Elephant Rumblings: U.S. Senate looking into MLB’s antitrust exemption

MLB news roundup

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MLB: World Series-Championship Parade Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Wednesday, Athletics Nation!

Imagine you’re a barista. I mean, you may be—and if so I thank you for providing the life-giving essence of my favorite daytime beverage. But if you aren’t, imagine you are. And imagine that every coffee shop in the country pays exactly the same wage of $13 per hour. No matter how many shops you apply to or how good you are at making coffee, you will gross $104 for an eight hour shift.

Thankfully, we have antitrust laws that prohibit this sort of anticompetitive practice. But Major League Baseball was granted a special antitrust exemption 100 years ago that allows team owners to cooperate in fixing wages for their workers across the industry. Major League players have strong union representation that fights for fair wages and working conditions. But minor leaguers don’t, and all 30 MLB owners have agreed that their minor leaguers should be paid as little as $400 per week on a seasonal basis.

But change may be coming.

Evan Drellich at The Athletic reported yesterday that the Senate Judiciary Committee is investigating the antitrust exemption with no small degree of prejudice. Committee members from both political parties wrote to the non-profit Advocates for Minor Leaguers requesting information on how the antitrust exemption affects minor league pay, reductions in the number of MiLB affiliates, and the international amateur system.

Senate majority whip Dick Durbin said in a statement, “We need to examine how Major League Baseball’s 100-year-old antitrust exemption is affecting ... the ability of Minor League ballplayers to make a decent living.”

Past efforts in Congress have fallen short of repealing the exemption, which resulted from a 1922 Supreme Court ruling. But perhaps MLB has finally perturbed enough politicians with its player lockouts and broadcast blackouts to finally spur lawmakers into meaningful action that will improve the lot of the minor leaguers who are critical to sustaining the big leagues.

Drellich provides some great historical detail on this issue and I highly recommend checking his piece out. Also, Jeff Passan of ESPN posted a Twitter thread that lays out potential pros, cons, and pitfalls of various scenarios such as a repeal of the exemption and the unionization of minor league players. Both are highly illuminating. Let us know what you think is the best way forward to give minor league players a fair shake!

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