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In 1922, the Supreme Court, in Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore, Inc., v. National Baseball Clubs, ruled that Major League Baseball is exempt from Anti-Trust laws. This means that the MLB must allow a team to move if it wants to move. It got this exemption because, apparently, baseball was not in “interstate commerce” in 1922. When challenged in 1953, the Supreme Court, in Toolson v. New York Yankees, Inc., ruled that Congress did not intend for baseball to be included in Anti-Trust laws, and now it is up to Congress to strip the MLB of its exemption.
As a result of MLB being allowed to veto a team’s move–a right that no other professional sports league has in the United States–it created “territories” for each team. In the 1980s, the A’s “territory” included the East Bay and South Bay, while the San Francisco Giants were on the other side of the San Francisco Bay. In 1989, the Giants wanted to move out of Candlestick Park in San Francisco and were growing frustrated of trying to find a new location in San Francisco. Therefore, the A’s owner ceded its territorial rights to San Jose to the the Giants. Fast forward twenty years: the A’s are trying to move out of the raw sewage-filled Oakland Coliseum, becoming frustrated as they search for another suitable location in Oakland. They find a location in San Jose, get the voters’ approval, and buy the land. However, when they ask the Giants for their territorial rights back, the Giants refuse. When they ask the MLB for the territorial rights to San Jose, the MLB stays silent for four-and-a-half years. The A’s are stuck, and have no power to move unless MLB acts.
As a comparison, if a team in any other sport in the United States wanted to move and the league blocked it, that team could sue under anti-trust laws and possibly win. What makes baseball so special? The bad 1922 Supreme Court decision, the consequences of which continue to make things difficult for MLB owners today. In fact, when the City of San Jose sued to allow the A’s to move to its city, the federal judge recently granted the motion to dismiss, ruling that he is unable to overturn the Supreme Court. That decision is currently on appeal. Unfortunately for the A’s, it appears that the only way they will be allowed to move to San Jose is if Congress steps in (unlikely) or the Giants suddenly feel as gracious as the A’s did in 1989. Until then, the A’s can only hope to keep the raw sewage leaks in their stadium to a minimum.
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