Mr. Manfred Will Be Going To Washington

MLB is looking like they will be back before Congress again. This time it is not related to performance-enhancing drugs; it is an anti-trust exemption Major League Baseball was granted in 1922 in the crosshairs. There is a parallel with the 1939 movie, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. In the film, there are two Senators and there becomes a problem between them when one decides a land development deal is more important than a campsite. In my baseball scenario, Senator Paine would be the embodiment of baseball ownership, and Mr. Smith would represent the minor league players and minor league communities. Congress received a written response from Major League Baseball justifying the existence of the exemption. The 17-page letter was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Democratic Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, as well as Republican Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Lee of Utah. A cynic could say it takes  something like baseball shenanigans to get the political parties to work together. Just taken as entertainment product, the letter was quite effective; taken as a geninue response offering an explanation of the reason the exemption should remain, the letter is an irritating bit of masterful obfuscation. I will say everything in the letter isn’t completely false or bad for the less well-heeled among us. The fact that franchise relocation falls beneath the antitrust umbrella is a positive in places like Oakland, where the owner would love to pick up stakes and be off to Las Vegas under the cover of night a la Art Modell when he took the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore all those years ago. It is also true baseball is the one major American sport with a true minor league system;  hockey and basketball have their versions, but nothing as extensive as baseball.The antitrust exemption allows Major League Baseball to control the minor leagues. This is where the problems arise. The fact no games had been lost due to work stoppages over the previous two decades is merely dumb luck and happenstance. It is not a product of baseball being granted an antitrust exemption. The uniform player contract is problematic. It allows the owners to collude in order to artificially suppress the wages of the minor league players. Saying without it the players wages could not be guaranteed is a simple fallacy and a bad faith argument.  Things such as housing and health benefits were only provided to players recent due to a public outcry once the conditions of the minor league players became more widely publicized. Eliminating minor league teams does not guarantee the standards throughout the minors. Major league teams could have been doing more to support their minor league affiliates the whole time. They do not get to eliminate teams and then say to the communities they took them from that it is for the benefit of the players Fewer players playing baseball in the minors has a trickle down effect. We all know long shots like Mike Piazza who managed to make it to the big leagues, and in his case the Hall of Fame. This also means the non-prospects can take the knowledge they gain from their professional experience back to their communities and teach the next generation of players. An antitrust exemption is not needed to fight corruption in development of players from poorer nations. Major League Baseball should be doing this already for the good of the game they want to have unfetted control over. Saying the implementation of an International Draft was going to be tied to the free agent compensation system in th last round of collective bargain shows those on the ownership side are not serious about the issue. The Save America’s Pastime Act, which was passed a part of an unrelated tax legislation, did not stop minor league contraction as stated. Now there is a claim $250 million will be spent to improve player working conditions, with no real plan; only stating in 2022-2023. The entirely of the letter is dubious at best. A neophyte who is unfamiliar with the workings of Major League Baseball may find the contentents illuminating. To this point, Congress has not taken the bait. The Senate Judiciary Committee has stated they wish to call Commissioner Manfred to Washington in October or November to speak to them directly. Given his prior behavior when under questioning, I do not expect it to go well for Mr. Manfred in Washington.  

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