MLB commissioner Rob Manfred defends antitrust waivers in 17-page response to Senate Judiciary Committee

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred Sent a 17-page letter to the US Senate Judiciary Committee. In which he defends MLB’s partial antitrust waiver.

The committee recently requested that Manfred clarify the need for the league’s antitrust immunity, which has existed in various forms since 1922 when the Supreme Court ruled that MLB was exempt from the Sherman Antitrust Act. The latest Senate inquiry into the exemption stems from MLB’s decision to contract the number of franchises affiliated with at least the minor leagues.

Last December, four of those unaffiliated teams filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court accusing the commissioner’s office of violating the Sherman Act. Also, antitrust waivers have also come under scrutiny due to the wages paid to minor league players.

In Manfred’s letter, he addressed, in part, the claims of nonprofit advocates for the minor leaguers who argued that the antitrust exemption worsened working conditions for minor league players. In his letter Manfred writes:

“We respectfully submit that the opposite is true — that baseball’s antitrust waivers have meaningfully improved the lives of minor league players, including their terms of employment, and that minor league “Enables affiliate operators to offer professional baseball in certain communities. Otherwise, a professional baseball cannot financially support a team.”

Elsewhere the Commissioner said:

“Minor league players may be forced to engage in individual negotiations for health, pension, housing, and meal benefits, potentially resulting in many (or even most) minor league players losing their jobs.” will receive fewer benefits than MLB currently requires.”

He also directly addressed the claims of the minor leaguers’ lawyers:

“…advocacy errs when it claims that all minor league players would receive higher pay and better benefits if compensation were determined based on ‘free market principles.’ Under such a system, high prospects – a relatively small number of players who already receive the highest signing bonuses – may do better, but a larger number of unlikely players may do worse. In fact, the supply of aspiring professional baseball players significantly exceeds the demand by major league clubs for players to fill their minor league rosters.”

Minor Leaguers supporters previously submitted a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee in which Executive Director Harry Marino claimed that the antitrust waiver had negatively affected minor league players in a number of ways — salaries among them. There is a clear example.

In recent years, MLB successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Save America’s Pastime Act, a measure that exempted minor league players from federal laws on minimum wage and overtime pay. Manfred himself recently disputed the idea that minor league players are underpaid, though without providing any supporting evidence for his claim.

In response to Manfred’s letter Friday, Marino released the following statement:

“When it comes to the impact of baseball’s antitrust waivers on minor league players and fans, Major League Baseball can’t get its story straight.

Just nine days ago, Commissioner Rob Manfred said: ‘I can’t think of a place where an exemption would really make sense, except in franchise transfers.’

This morning, Manfred said the opposite, claiming that baseball’s exemption has ‘significantly improved the lives of minor league players, including their terms of employment, and some minor league operators. Enables professional baseball to be offered in communities that otherwise would not. A professional baseball team cannot financially support it.’

In simple words these two statements cannot be true.

Given that MLB continues to pay poverty-level wages to most minor league players and recently eliminated 40 minor league teams, the positions it has taken today are surprising — very To say the least. We intend to thoroughly review the many claims made in today’s 17-page letter and will respond in full in the coming days.”

Also, Penn State law professor Stephen Ross told The Athletic’s Evan Drelich last yearthat MLB’s minor league salary system would likely be considered illegal in the absence of their antitrust immunity.

As for the franchise’s stability in the minor leagues, Manfred argued that the exemption was necessary. He writes:

“Such a system would certainly not be sustainable in many communities but for the centralized governance and coordination that MLB is currently able to provide under baseball’s franchise.”

More on this topic from Manfred:

“If left solely to the individual decisions of MLB clubs, some may choose to have fewer than four affiliates, and some may not keep some affiliates in their existing communities.”

Elsewhere in his letter, Manfred argued that the current waivers are also key to the franchise’s stability at the major league level — that is, franchise relocations are relatively rare compared to other major professional sports leagues.

Manfred’s letter is a precursor to a possible Senate hearing on MLB’s antitrust immunity issue, which could take place as early as fall of this year.