The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected the city of San Jose’s claim that MLB’s refusal to allow the Oakland A’s to move to the South Bay is a violation of antitrust law. The Supreme Court giveth baseball its antitrust exemption wrote the judges in a unanimous verdict, and only the Supreme Court can take it away or modify it:
(Thanks to Newballpark.org for the screenshot.)
Sports law experts were split on the viability of San Jose’s case, you may recall, with Stanford’s Roger Noll saying it might have a shot, while NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra snorted in derision. I haven’t seen any comments yet from Noll (and it’s 6:30 am in California, I’m not gonna be the one to wake him up), but Calcaterra draws a pretty devastating conclusion after reading the verdict:
It’s a just full-fledged Heisman at San Jose, citing the three big Supreme Court cases giving MLB its antitrust exemption — most recently the Curt Flood case — and saying that San Jose doesn’t even get past the first threshold. MLB’s exemption from the antitrust laws, while not absolute, certainly covers franchise relocation, the court ruled, thus kicking this one to the curb as a matter of law.
San Jose can go to the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court has itself ruled that it will take Congress acting to change the law as it applies to Major League Baseball in order to have the exemption removed or modified enough to cover cases like this. So, sorry guys.
In short: If you’ve been holding out hope of a court ordering MLB to let the A’s move to San Jose, don’t hold your breath. The only real chance of a move is if A’s owner Lew Wolff decides to pay the San Francisco Giants‘ territorial ransom once the legal options are extinguished (not likely, considering that the Giants can and will ask for the moon) or that new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is more eager to lean on the Giants owners to cut a deal than his predecessor Bud Selig was (also not likely, if he wants to keep his job). We’ll find out after the Supreme Court acts, I guess.