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Lunch » Tags » Untagged » The Baseball Trust: A History of Baseball's Antitrust Exemption » User review

Non-page turner digs deep into the legal lore of baseball history

  • Jul 21, 2013
Law professor Banner goes straight to work without cracking a smile or quoting any nostalgic nostrums about the "great game of baseball.". He doesn't seem to dislike baseball and never denigrates it.  One may even say he honors the game by approaching the subject seriously, thoroughly, and legally.

Professional baseball was the only national professional team sports league in the early part of the twentieth century when antitrust legislation was passed in the US to "break up" the monopolies that limited fair trade in major industries like steel, oil, and railroads.  This legislation was justified by the constitutional power of Congress to provide for interstate commerce.  Many of the early legal cases involving the antitrust laws were an attempt to define what business activities actually constituted interstate commerce, and the early view was a very limited one.  In 1922, when the Supreme Court finally ruled on the seminal Federal Baseball Club case, baseball was compared to vaudeville, which was considered interstate commerce because by their nature vaudeville troupes traveled from state to state to put on shows, and opera, in which "even if the performers did travel from one state to another, the travel was only incidental to the exhibitions of their skill, which was a local.matter."  The court ruled that baseball was more like the latter and therefore not interstate commerce and not subject ti the antitrust laws.

Notice that despite the subtitle of the book and the common usage which it reflects the court did not exempt baseball from the antitrust law, but said that baseball was in fact not even subject to the law because it wasn't interstate commerce.  This is a distinction with a difference as Banner proves throughout his account as he unrolls it in even, unemotional, and very logical historical and legal terms.  The distinction became important as court cases after Federal Baseball Club widened the definition of interstate commerce as the national economy exploded and Congress attempted to keep regulatory control over it.  Baseball's role in the legal landscape continued to be challenged in court and Congress but never  changed.  Other sports like boxing and professional football tried to gain from baseball's ruling but were rejected. In Banner's account there were two telling blows that finally limited (but have never yet overturned) baseball's unique antitrust position:

--the Curt Flood challenge to the reserve clause in the standard major league contract that kept a player tied to his original team.

--the rise of powerful player labor unions that were able to take advantage of new labor arbitration rules to gain more equal footing in interpreting and influencing contract terms.

If you are a hard core fan with an interest in this legal history, then Banner has written the book for you.  If you are a casual fan who wants to learn about the cultural and economic history of baseball you probably want to read a wikipedia article on the topic and not go this deep on this very narrow topic.

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July 21, 2013
Fine review. Think I will avoid this one per your experience.
July 21, 2013
Thanks for sharing!
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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"Splendid...a valuable corrective to the widely held view that the romance of baseball was the main reason that courts have treated it with special solicitude....Mr. Banner, who teaches law at the University of California, Los Angeles, is himself a sure-footed historian and a legal writer of exceptional grace and clarity." --Adam Liptak,New York Times
"Among the most compelling baseball books this season...." -David Ulin,Los Angeles Times
"One of the great puzzles of the history of both baseball and anti-trust law is the 'exemption' granted to the baseball industry from anti-trust law. Nearly everyone agrees that the exemption, which is not available to other professional sports, makes very little sense as a matter of law or economics. Stuart Banner demonstrates that the exemption was not intended to serve the usual reason for avoiding anti-trust laws, but rather to preserve baseball's 'reserve clause,' which bound players indefinitely to their clubs and thereby reduced the players' leverage. By following shrewd advice from lawyers, organized baseball was able to convince both the courts and Congress that replacing the reserve clause with free agency would undermine competitive balance. Even though this turned out not to be the case, baseball's anti-trust exemption remains in place. Banner's book will be the place to start in understanding that curious anomaly."
-G. Edward White, author ofCreating the National Pastime
"In this important study, Banner provides extensive treatment ...
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