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San Jose files suit against MLB in quest for A’s

Proposed San Jose ballpark

The city of San Jose filed a federal lawsuit against Major League Baseball today, arguing MLB’s antitrust exemption is improperly keeping the Oakland A’s from building a new ballpark and moving to the city.

San Jose Major Chuck Reed had earlier hinted that the city was ready to fight MLB in court to get the A’s, and today the shoe dropped. The issue is simple: San Jose is part of the territory controlled by the San Francisco Giants, and the Giants and A’s ownerships have not been able to come to agreement for the territory. The Giants says a quarter of their revenue can be attributed to San Jose and the Bay Area; the A’s say they can’t make money on a new Oakland ballpark and would prefer seeking a San Jose ballpark. And while the path to a new ballpark isn’t exactly clear in San Jose — the state may still make a claim on the land set aside for the project, and the city still has not acquired all the needed land parcels — it’s clear enough that Reed and city leaders have decided to make another run at MLB’s antitrust exemption. From AP:

The lawsuit — filed in federal court in San Jose — is disputing MLB’s exemption to federal antitrust law, which MLB has used as a “guise” to control the location of teams, according to the suit.

“It’s time for someone to take on this supposed baseball exemption from antitrust laws,” said attorney Phil Gregory of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, the law firm representing the city. “The City of San Jose is a perfect candidate to make that challenge.”…

[MLB Commissioner Bud Selig] rejected a proposal earlier this year from San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed to sit down and talk about the A’s plans and said Reed’s reference to additional litigation at the time was “neither productive nor consistent with process that the Athletics have initiated under our rules.”

A’s owner Lew Wolff is not a party to the lawsuit.

MLB’s antitrust exemption dates back to 1922, when the upstart Federal League asserted that it failed because the American and National League conpsired to create a monopoly. However, in Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore, Inc. v. National Baseball Clubs, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Federal League, saying that baseball was not a monopoly subject to antitrust legislation.

That exemption has stood the test of time, but challenges have come close to succeeding. For instance, in 1993 Vince Piazza sued MLB over the sale of the San Francisco Giants. Piazza wanted to buy the Giants and move the team to St. Petersburg, but MLB opposed the sale and move. MLB lost a round in federal court, with a judge ruling the antitrust exemption did not apply to team moves, but MLB then settled with Piazza, so the exemption lives on, albeit in weakened form. Other sports do not have the same exemption; that’s why Al Davis was able to move the NFL’s Raiders to Los Angeles and then back again.

RELATED STORIES: Selig to San Jose Mayor: Sorry, no time to meet; Progress on new A’s ballpark? Not likely; Athletics propose five-year lease for Coliseum; What drives Lew Wolff?; Wolff: No more delays on A’s ballpark decisionSan Jose ballpark land deal under formal reviewCould Giants-A’s battle be settled in court?Waterfront site emerging as new A’s homeMLB committee meets with Oakland, San Jose officials about future of A’s; Developer: I can build new A’s ballpark with private financingSan Jose: A’s ballpark land safe — for nowWolff meets with Knauss, has clear message: A’s not for saleGiants: Nothing would tempt us to give up Silicon Valley territorySelig: A’s can leave Oakland — just not for San JoseCal to San Jose: Slow down on new ballparkA’s expected to push for ballpark decision at owner’s meetingsToday’s A’s/Giants update: nothing newWolff: A’s aren’t for saleSuitors emerge for Oakland Athletics


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