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New York AG joins challenge against MLB’s antitrust exemption

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New York Attorney General Letitia James, along with 17 other state attorneys general, is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to re-examine baseball’s long-standing antitrust exemption. The call to action supports a case initiated in September by the Tri-City ValleyCats and Oneonta Athletic Corporation against MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office, following the MLB’s 2020 decision to reduce affiliated minor-league teams from 160 to 120. This move led to the disaffiliation of teams such as the ValleyCats, Auburn Doubledays, Batavia Muckdogs, and Staten Island Yankees.

A statement from James’ office underscored the legal implications of the century-old exemption: “Major League Baseball is exempt from antitrust laws… meaning the action to cut 40 teams and harm communities throughout the nation cannot be effectively challenged under the antitrust laws.” Consequently, James, alongside her peers from states including Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, is pressing the Supreme Court to overturn these historical decisions, enabling legal actions under antitrust regulations.

Historically, the MLB’s exemption from antitrust laws has roots in a 1922 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which identified baseball not as interstate commerce but as exhibitions exempt from such laws. Subsequent reaffirmations of this exemption occurred in 1953 and 1972, the latter of which emphasized that any alterations should be legislated by Congress. This exemption has been pivotal in shaping baseball’s landscape, most notably influencing free agency in the sport.