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The Baseball Trust: A History of Baseball's Antitrust Exemption

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The impact of antitrust law on sports is in the news all the time, especially when there is labor conflict between players and owners, or when a team wants to move to a new city. And if the majority of Americans have only the vaguest sense of what antitrust law is, most know one thing about it-that baseball is exempt. In The Baseball Trust, legal historian Stuart Banner ill The impact of antitrust law on sports is in the news all the time, especially when there is labor conflict between players and owners, or when a team wants to move to a new city. And if the majority of Americans have only the vaguest sense of what antitrust law is, most know one thing about it-that baseball is exempt. In The Baseball Trust, legal historian Stuart Banner illuminates the series of court rulings that resulted in one of the most curious features of our legal system-baseball's exemption from antitrust law. A serious baseball fan, Banner provides a thoroughly entertaining history of the game as seen through the prism of an extraordinary series of courtroom battles, ranging from 1890 to the present. The book looks at such pivotal cases as the 1922 Supreme Court case which held that federal antitrust laws did not apply to baseball; the 1972 Flood v. Kuhn decision that declared that baseball is exempt even from state antitrust laws; and several cases from the 1950s, one involving boxing and the other football, that made clear that the exemption is only for baseball, not for sports in general. Banner reveals that for all the well-documented foibles of major league owners, baseball has consistently received and followed antitrust advice from leading lawyers, shrewd legal advice that eventually won for baseball a protected legal status enjoyed by no other industry in America. As Banner tells this fascinating story, he also provides an important reminder of the path-dependent nature of the American legal system. At each step, judges and legislators made decisions that were perfectly sensible when considered one at a time, but that in total yielded an outcome-baseball's exemption from antitrust law-that makes no sense at all.


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The impact of antitrust law on sports is in the news all the time, especially when there is labor conflict between players and owners, or when a team wants to move to a new city. And if the majority of Americans have only the vaguest sense of what antitrust law is, most know one thing about it-that baseball is exempt. In The Baseball Trust, legal historian Stuart Banner ill The impact of antitrust law on sports is in the news all the time, especially when there is labor conflict between players and owners, or when a team wants to move to a new city. And if the majority of Americans have only the vaguest sense of what antitrust law is, most know one thing about it-that baseball is exempt. In The Baseball Trust, legal historian Stuart Banner illuminates the series of court rulings that resulted in one of the most curious features of our legal system-baseball's exemption from antitrust law. A serious baseball fan, Banner provides a thoroughly entertaining history of the game as seen through the prism of an extraordinary series of courtroom battles, ranging from 1890 to the present. The book looks at such pivotal cases as the 1922 Supreme Court case which held that federal antitrust laws did not apply to baseball; the 1972 Flood v. Kuhn decision that declared that baseball is exempt even from state antitrust laws; and several cases from the 1950s, one involving boxing and the other football, that made clear that the exemption is only for baseball, not for sports in general. Banner reveals that for all the well-documented foibles of major league owners, baseball has consistently received and followed antitrust advice from leading lawyers, shrewd legal advice that eventually won for baseball a protected legal status enjoyed by no other industry in America. As Banner tells this fascinating story, he also provides an important reminder of the path-dependent nature of the American legal system. At each step, judges and legislators made decisions that were perfectly sensible when considered one at a time, but that in total yielded an outcome-baseball's exemption from antitrust law-that makes no sense at all.

30 review for The Baseball Trust: A History of Baseball's Antitrust Exemption

  1. 5 out of 5

    Don Friedman

    An entire book about baseball's history of attempts to apply antitrust laws to the sport, eventually leading to the absurd exemption from the rules only for baseball. There seems to be no dispute that the exception for baseball is absurd and indefensible, but the courts have evaded taking action, saying it requires Congressional action. I found the first half or so of the book a somewhat rough slog, but it picked up when discussing the more modern history, especially with Curt Flood's ultimately An entire book about baseball's history of attempts to apply antitrust laws to the sport, eventually leading to the absurd exemption from the rules only for baseball. There seems to be no dispute that the exception for baseball is absurd and indefensible, but the courts have evaded taking action, saying it requires Congressional action. I found the first half or so of the book a somewhat rough slog, but it picked up when discussing the more modern history, especially with Curt Flood's ultimately failed effort to break the exemption - a step refused by the Supreme Court. Ultimately an arbitration case was the undoing of the reserve clause, which made players essentially the property of the owners for life... Cool to see the major role of Marvin Miller - a longtime family friend - in organizing the first professional sports union, and developing the strategy that would result in free agency...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mattypabst

    Really enjoyable read that takes a new look at baseballs antitrust exemption and shows it under a different lite.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Luy

    The legal aspects are clearly explained, and fascinating. The baseball history is not flowery (in a good way), and fascinating.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review title: Non-page turner digs deep into the legal lore of baseball history 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 Review title: Non-page turner digs deep into the legal lore of baseball history 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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Oliver Bateman

    I was skeptical of this OUP review copy when it arrived, but Banner does yeoman's work sketching out the history of a legal doctrine that is frequently cited but only dimly understood. The prose is penetrating and pitch-perfect, exactly the right key for legal history, and the close analyses of primary sources often a neat corrective to lazy sports historians who employ concepts willy-nilly, without ever bothering to explain how they developed or what they actually meant. What emerges from Banne I was skeptical of this OUP review copy when it arrived, but Banner does yeoman's work sketching out the history of a legal doctrine that is frequently cited but only dimly understood. The prose is penetrating and pitch-perfect, exactly the right key for legal history, and the close analyses of primary sources often a neat corrective to lazy sports historians who employ concepts willy-nilly, without ever bothering to explain how they developed or what they actually meant. What emerges from Banner's research is a fascinating account of how the situation-specific "antitrust exemption," arrived at largely through sloppy OW Holmes decision writing (what a shocker, huh?) tied to a pre-New Deal concept of "interstate commerce," would evolve during the even sloppier Warren Court into a historical phenomenon (they reverse-engineer congressional intent), before finally losing its bite due to the decision of a single aging arbitrator.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Johnny

    a good book but does sometimes get bogged down in legalese. One of the more interesting arguments near the end of the book was how the nature of the antitrust immunity has changed. From 1922-1970s, the main reason for the exemption was to preserve the reserve system. Now it has been used to keep the teams from moving to other cities and better revenues and to keep the minor leagues and its players in line.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Budd Bailey

    http://allsportsbooks.blogspot.com/20... http://allsportsbooks.blogspot.com/20...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gtpaulson

    I enjoy baseball. Garlic fries! The seventh inning stretch! That said, what a great book! Great not for the history of baseball but for a wonderful insight on how our government functions.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    An good read but best for people who are big fans of baseball or have an interest in labor relations, otherwise it will probably seem a bit long.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David

  11. 4 out of 5

    nines

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bog

  13. 4 out of 5

    Meril

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stew

  15. 5 out of 5

    Makenzie Dolnick

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  17. 4 out of 5

    Robert Ganer

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stephon

  19. 4 out of 5

    Roger Barkan

  20. 4 out of 5

    Larry V

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

  22. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  23. 5 out of 5

    David

  24. 4 out of 5

    Maggie

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mark T. Piche

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dan Eggleston

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jody Porter

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alex Kardon

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michael Lowenberg

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mike

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