September 21, 2017

Only Thing Older Than The Longest Game Is MLB’s 95-Year-Old Anti-Trust Exemption

September 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

(And That Should End Too!)

Everyone in Pawtucket, Rhode Island probably knows that on June 23, 1981 the longest game in professional baseball history between the Rochester Red Wings and Pawtucket Red Sox ended after 33 innings, eight hours and 25 minutes of playing time. It had started at McCoy Stadium two months earlier, and was mercifully suspended after the first 32 innings. Sure, everyone recalls that future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken, Jr. and Wade Boggs played in that game, as well as future Boston Red Sox stars Marty Barrett and Bobby Ojeda. But do you know the name of the losing Red Wings pitcher? Do you know the name of the hurler who pitched the most innings?

The losing pitcher was no less than Steve Grilli, the former Detroit Tiger who, at that point, hadn’t been in a big league game in two years. And Jim Umbarger, the former Texas Ranger whose last appearance in The Show was a year before Grilli’s, went 10 innings. Both Grilli and Umbarger are among the 500 retired players not receiving Major League Baseball (MLB) pensions. I’m telling you this because of the recent announcement that the 30 MLB club owners are donating $10 million to the National Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF) in Cooperstown. HOF relics, including a baseball signed by all the members of the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings who participated in that marathon 1981 contest, apparently are more important than real live, flesh and blood human beings.

Because of the league’s arrogance, I believe the time may be right to revisit repealing the anti-trust exemption that MLB has enjoyed for the last 95 years. MLB maintains the loss of the antitrust exemption would affect its minor league operations nationwide and create instability through team relocations. A 1922 United States Supreme Court case, the Federal Baseball Club v. National League, found that baseball is not involved in interstate commerce or trade as defined by the Sherman Antitrust Act.

A Stanford professor emeritus of economics, Roger Noll, doesn’t believe baseball would suffer much if the exemption were tossed. “While baseball may not like having less control over where teams play and where they can televise their games, it would not be economically threatened if its antitrust exemption were to be weakened or even eliminated,” Noll told the Stanford News Service two years ago.

His colleague, Professor Emeriti William Gould IV, agrees that the exemption should be rolled back. “Baseball has never really made the case that it is different and unique from other professional sports,” says Gould, who is a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board. Legislation to revoke the exemption was introduced by the late Oklahoma Democrat Mike Synar and passed by the House Judiciary Committee in 1994, but was never sent to the full House of Representatives. The Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law would be the body to hear testimony about any proposed new legislation. Rhode Island United States Representative David Cicilline (Democrat- 1st District), whose district office is in Pawtucket, is the Ranking Minority Member to serve on that committee.

David Greenberg, a professor of history, journalism and media studies at Rutgers University, agrees with the two Stanford educators. In a 2002 Slate article entitled “Baseball’s Con Game,” Greenberg wrote that the exemption “stems from the government’s naive insistence that baseball is only a game. Alone among professional sports, baseball enjoys immunity from antitrust prosecution because neither Congress nor the Supreme Court has been willing to overturn an ancient decision that baseball is merely an amusement, not a commercial enterprise.” The idea that baseball isn’t a commercial enterprise is ludicrous, especially since Forbes recently reported that the average team’s value is $1.54 billion — 19 percent more than in 2016.

Maybe someone should remind the 30 club owners that they’re lucky to have their exemption. That’s why they should do right by the retirees who aren’t as fortunate as them.

Douglas J. Gladstone is the author of two books and multiple newspaper, magazine and webzine stories.

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