AG James is going after a century-old antitrust law exemption that helped kill the Staten Island Yankees

October 24, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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In a bold move aimed at safeguarding minor league baseball teams, New York Attorney General Letitia James spearheaded a bipartisan coalition of 18 attorneys general, beseeching the U.S. Supreme Court to reevaluate a longstanding baseball antitrust exemption. 

This exemption, established a century ago, has been a thorn in the side of minor league teams across smaller communities, notably the now-defunct Staten Island Yankees, who was once a shining star in their league.

“Baseball may be ‘America’s Pastime,’ but it should also have to play by America’s laws that govern monopolies,” said Attorney General James. “Minor league clubs are part of the fabric of hundreds of communities throughout the nation that don’t have nearby access to a Major League Baseball stadium. By calling these clubs out of the system, Major League Baseball is punishing the fans and local communities.”

The crux of the issue lies in a 2020 pact among 30 Major League Baseball (MLB) teams that curtailed the number of affiliated minor league teams from 160 to 120. The legal framework that has been around for a century grants MLB an exemption from antitrust laws, thereby allowing such a sweeping action that axed 40 teams, leaving a void in communities nationwide. 

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The case titled Tri-City ValleyCats, Inc. and Oneonta Athletic Corporation v. The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball aims to challenge this exemption.

The fallout from the 2020 MLB decision was felt sharply in New York, with teams like Auburn Doubledays, Batavia Muckdogs, Staten Island Yankees and Tri-City ValleyCats losing their competitive edge for minor league talent and the financial backing from their major league affiliates. 

This scenario, in any other business domain, would have been deemed an unfair competition restriction under state and federal antitrust laws. However, the ancient legal exemption for baseball has made it an exception, a point the coalition is challenging vehemently.

The brief filed zeroes in on the perceived misstep by the Supreme Court in barring state enforcement of antitrust laws, a move the coalition argues was never the intent of Congress. 

The alliance of attorneys general from states ranging from Arizona to the District of Columbia underscores the urgency and widespread support to rectify a century-old legal provision that now threatens the very essence of community baseball.

The narrative of the Staten Island Yankees mirrors the plight faced by numerous minor league teams, a narrative that Attorney General James and the coalition aim to alter by ensuring baseball, too, plays by the competition rules set forth in America’s antitrust laws.


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