Save Minor League Baseball Task Force takes next step in the fight against MLB

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On Tuesday, the Save Minor League Baseball Task Force introduced a congressional resolution to keep Major League Baseball from their plan to disaffiliate dozens of Minor League Baseball teams before the 2021 season. A bipartisan group comprised of the task force’s co-chairs —  Lori Trahan (Democrat, Massachusetts), David McKinley (Republican, West Virginia), Max Rose (Democrat, New York), and Mike Simpson (Republican, New York) — introduced the resolution, which makes three points within, that all tie back to one main point: don’t get rid of these teams:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved,

That the House of Representatives—

(1) supports the preservation of Minor League Baseball in 160 American communities;

(2) recognizes the unique social, economic, and historic contributions that Minor League Baseball has made to American life and culture; and

(3) encourages continuation of the 117-year foundation of the Minor Leagues in 160 communities through continued affiliations with Major League Baseball.

You can find the full text here, stuffed full of all of the Whereas you need that mention attendance (over 40 million for the 15th year running), MiLB’s donations to local communities (15,000 volunteer hours, $45 million in cash and in-kind gifts), and MiLB’s place as the only touchstone for pro ball in many, many communities. The primary points are the ones above, though, and the task force is seeking to pass those points as a resolution to make theirs known to MLB.

Before we dive into what this means or could mean, let’s take a step back, and discuss what a resolution is. It won’t take long to do so: a resolution is basically the same as a bill once it passes and in the process of passing it. However, they’re used for different things. Congress can’t exactly pass a bill into law stating that MLB can’t disaffiliate from these MiLB teams, but they can pass a resolution like the above to let MLB know they strongly and officially disapprove of this measure, and in doing so can show the league that Congress isn’t going to be thrilled about disaffiliation if it happens or even if it looks like it’s about to happen.

Hypothetically, if this resolution passed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and then got the approval of the president, then Major League Baseball would get the hint that there is going to be political trouble for them if they push forward with their plan to disaffiliate. In theory, this trouble would take the form of a threat to remove MLB’s antitrust exemption, the existence of which is something Congress can get rid of. The courts don’t need to be brought in at all for everything to change for MLB in this regard, for around 100 years of legalized monopoly to suddenly be in danger.

This isn’t just hypothesizing, of course: Trahan suggested as much when we spoke in late-2019:

When asked about what lengths Trahan and Co. were willing to go to, Trahan said that, “It might be too early to say, but I do believe everything is on the table. The MLB does not exist in a vacuum: for over a century, Congress has taken numerous actions, specifically designed to protect and preserve and sustain a system and a structure for both Major and Minor League Baseball to flourish.”

You would be forgiven for thinking that the implication of “everything is on the table” is that MLB’s antitrust exemption could be in danger. MLB is the only major sport with such an exemption, thanks to a case from nearly a century ago at a time when the league and the world of business and sports were much different than they are today. While multiple challenges to the antitrust exemption have failed in the courts since it was first initiated, Congress, not the Supreme Court, is actually the political power with the ability to straight-up remove that status from MLB, since that method wouldn’t bring retroactivity into the fallout, like a Supreme Court decision would. And MLB threatening to walk away from the minors if they don’t simply acquiesce to the demands in front of them is surely going to bring up the whole idea of removing the antitrust exemption in more than just veiled terms.While MiLB has benefited from the antitrust exemption over the decades, too, because of how it benefits MLB, stripping the exemption would open up options for competition, outside investing, and new league formations that just aren’t available while MLB-affiliated baseball is the literal only game in town.

Submitting a resolution to see if the rest of Congress cares enough to agree with the task force is the next step in this process. If the House and Senate both pass the resolution, it might even get past President Trump, considering its bipartisan nature. And then we get to see who blinks first: Congress or the billionaires that comprise the ruling class used to telling legislators what to do.

“Who blinks first” is what this all comes down to. Even the resolution passing doesn’t matter one bit if Congress won’t then actually go through with threatening MLB in a way that will get 30 owners and commission Rob Manfred to back off of an incredibly unpopular plan they haven’t been swayed from yet. MLB knows this, too: if this is all just political bluster, if the representatives who truly do care about this are outnumbered by ones who are just trying to score some political points with local voters ahead of the next election, then MLB is safe to do whatever they please with the far less powerful MiLB and its teams.

If the resolution passes and, representatives like Trahan are further emboldened by it, or this all drags out until somehow Bernie Sanders is the president and will not only approve the resolution but attack MLB’s greedy billionaire owners with it given both his interest in that subject and in the minor-league question at hand, then MLB might realize they need to bail on this version of their plan. MLB’s owners want to disaffiliate from 42 teams in order to save money and scare minor-league players out of ever asking for a raise again. If the result of that extreme cost-cutting is that the opportunity opens up for another league to be created by other rich people outside of the MLB universe, one that can lure MLB’s own players and future players away with MLB not able to use their standard antitrust levers to kill any such effort, well, MLB might not be so willing to threaten disaffiliation any longer.

The Save Minor League Baseball Task Force and the rest of Congress have to mean it if they pass this resolution for anything it says or stands for is to matter. It can’t just be symbolic: symbolic isn’t going to deter the ultra-wealthy who care far more about money than baseball or its players or the fans who want to watch the sport.

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