Constitution Daily

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How baseball's "final four" are connected to the Constitution

October 17, 2011 by Michael Simzak


Only two teams in baseball's League Championship Series could advance to the World Series this weekend, and only St. Louis and Texas did, but all four teams were connected to the Constitution.

To illuminate that connection for constitutional sports fans, the Constitution Daily Sports Desk has delved into the history of the Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, and Milwaukee Brewers to find out how they relate to baseball’s antitrust exemption.

Detroit Tigers, 1907 World Series Champions (Wikimedia Commons)

The antitrust exemption is baseball’s major claim to a place in constitutional history and results from the 1922 Supreme Court decision in the case of Federal Baseball Club vs. National League. The justices ruled unanimously that baseball was in the business of organizing local sports exhibitions and as such was not considered interstate commerce. Major League Baseball is the only professional sports league in the United States that enjoys such an exemption. While the exemption has been tested and threatened on a number of occasions over the last 90 years, it has been upheld, allowing Major League Baseball to enjoy a complete hegemony over professional baseball in the United States.

Both the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals have connections to the Federal Baseball Club case.  The Tigers were established in 1894 and became one of the eight charter members of the American League in 1901. The St. Louis Cardinals were originally founded in 1882 as the St. Louis Brown Stockings. They joined the National League in 1892 and changed their name to the Cardinals in 1900. Both teams were involved in the 1903 agreement between the American and National Leagues that established Major League Baseball, and as such would have been a part of the original lawsuit.

While the Cardinals and Tigers have connections to the establishment of the antitrust exemption, both the Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers are clubs that were established as a result of threats to the antitrust exemption.

The Cardinals were also involved in the most serious challenge to baseball’s antitrust exemption, the 1972 Flood vs. Kuhn case.  In 1969, the Cardinals traded Curt Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies; Flood did not want to play for the Phillies and refused to report to the team. He sued MLB, challenging the reserve clause which gave control of players to a team even if the player’s contract was expired or terminated. The case went to the Supreme Court in 1972. Citing the antitrust exemption, the Court ruled that the reserve clause was a matter for collective bargaining between the league and the players union and not a matter for the courts. During 1975 collective bargaining negotiations, the reserve clause was struck down, paving the way for free agency.

While the Cardinals and Tigers have connections to the establishment of the antitrust exemption, both the Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers are clubs that were established as a result of threats to the antitrust exemption. The Texas Rangers were founded as the Washington Senators in 1961 after the original Washington Senators departed the nation’s capital for Minnesota, where they became the Twins.  In order to stave off threats to their antitrust status, Major League Baseball quickly established a new franchise in DC. Unfortunately, the new Washington Senators were forced to move following the 1971 season because of financial difficulties. The Senators were allowed to relocate to Arlington, TX, where they became the Texas Rangers.

Similarly, the Milwaukee Brewers were the result of expansion and relocation. The Brewers began play as the Seattle Pilots in 1967. Baseball was forced to expand after the Kansas City Athletics moved to Oakland because Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri threatened to revoke baseball’s antitrust status if the city was not given another team immediately. As a result, baseball added four new teams: The Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres joined the National League, and the Seattle Pilots and Kansas City Royals joined the American League. The Pilots lasted two years before they were sold to Bud Selig, who moved the team to Milwaukee and rename them the Brewers in 1970.

What do these constitutional connections portend for the World Series? Not much for the outcome on the field, but everything for the teams' future lineups and financial fortunes.

Michael Simzak is Youth Programs Coordinator at the National Constitution Center and the official sports writer for Constitution Daily.

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