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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Congress Mulls Antitrust Exemption

WASHINGTON -- Baseball's longstanding exemption from federal antitrust laws apparently is in greater danger than ever of being repealed or limited -- a development that would end the players' strike, union chief Donald Fehr told a congressional subcommittee.


Congressional members pledged during and after an often-combative hearing Thursday on Washington's Capitol Hill to increase their efforts to pass a bill to at least limit baseball's antitrust exemption, but conceded that such legislation is not likely to be enacted before early next year.


Representative Jack Brooks, Democrat of Texas, concluded the hearing of the economic and commercial law subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee by saying that he will support the movement to repeal the game's antitrust exemption, which was established by the Supreme Court in 1922. The exemption gives the team owners a variety of legal privileges, including preventing the players from filing an antitrust lawsuit if the owners declare an impasse in negotiations and attempt to unilaterally impose a cap on players' salaries.


"As a result of the sorry spectacle the nation was forced to endure for the last few months, and my very grave concerns for the future of the institution, I have come to the conclusion that legislation is now needed to restore the principles of competition and fair play to the business of baseball," said Brooks, the chairman of both the subcommittee and the House Judiciary Committee.


Brooks said he might try to expedite legislation through Congress to take effect before next year's scheduled season opening on April 2. But more obstacles are seen in the Senate, where a bill that would limit the antitrust exemption -- and permit the players to sue if the owners unilaterally impose a salary cap -- was kept off the floor by a procedural block last week.


Fehr called Thursday's proclamation by Brooks a victory for the players. "When the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee indicates action should take place, that is of no small significance," Fehr said. Asked whether Thursday's hearing will have any impact upon negotiations with the owners, Fehr said: "To the extent the owners believe their antitrust exemption is in danger, perhaps."


Acting league commissioner Bud Selig told the congressional panel that repealing the exemption would threaten franchise stability in the major leagues. The owners no longer could veto potential relocations by teams, and further expansion would become a near certainty.


Selig, the Milwaukee Brewers' owner, downplayed the significance of Brooks' announcement. "I really believe this will not be settled in the halls of Congress," he said. "I truly believe the only way to solve this is at the bargaining table."


Under questioning by Brooks during the hearing, Selig promised to share all of the owners' financial data with Congress, but only under "controlled circumstances."


Boston Red Sox General Partner John Harrington, one of seven major league owners to attend the hearing, said a lockout of the players next spring is possible if Congress enacts legislation to repeal or limit the antitrust exemption.