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Baseball on Trial

The Origin of Baseball's Antitrust Exemption

Nathaniel Grow

Publication Year: 2014

The controversial 1922 Federal Baseball Supreme Court ruling held that the "business of base ball" was not subject to the Sherman Antitrust Act because it did not constitute interstate commerce. In Baseball on Trial, legal scholar Nathaniel Grow defies conventional wisdom to explain why the unanimous Supreme Court opinion authored by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, which gave rise to Major League Baseball's exemption from antitrust law, was correct given the circumstances of the time.Currently a billion dollar enterprise, professional baseball teams crisscross the country while the games are broadcast via radio, television, and internet coast to coast. The sheer scope of this activity would seem to embody the phrase "interstate commerce." Yet baseball is the only professional sport--indeed the sole industry--in the United States that currently benefits from a judicially constructed antitrust immunity. How could this be?Drawing upon recently released documents from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Grow analyzes how the Supreme Court reached this seemingly peculiar result by tracing the Federal Baseball litigation from its roots in 1914 to its resolution in 1922, in the process uncovering significant new details about the proceedings. Grow observes that while interstate commerce was measured at the time by the exchange of tangible goods, baseball teams in the 1910s merely provided live entertainment to their fans, while radio was a fledgling technology that had little impact on the sport. The book ultimately concludes that, despite the frequent criticism of the opinion, the Supreme Court's decision was consistent with the conditions and legal climate of the early twentieth century.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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Acknowledgments

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I would not have been able to write this book without the assistance of a number of individuals. First and foremost, my wife, Lara Grow, and father, Michael Grow, dutifully reviewed drafts of each chapter as they were being written, providing invaluable substantive and editorial guidance. The book...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-4

The United States Supreme Court’s 1922 decision in Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore, Inc. v. National League of Professional Baseball Clubs ranks among the most frequently criticized opinions in Supreme Court history. In a unanimous ruling authored by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the...

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1. The Rivalry Begins

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pp. 5-21

“It will be war to the hilt with organized baseball from this time forth,” exclaimed J. Edward Krause. “We have the money, and the money will tempt the players we want.”1 The “we” that Krause was referring to was the Federal League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, a new league that began play in...

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2. The Opening Salvos

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pp. 22-45

The news of December 27, 1913, sent a shockwave throughout professional baseball: star shortstop Joe Tinker had signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Federals, or “ChiFeds,” for $12,000 per season. The future Hall of Famer—immortalized in Franklin P. Adams’s poem “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon”...

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3. The Federal League Strikes Back

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pp. 46-64

Although the Federal League’s large-scale raid of organized baseball collapsed following the Illinois court’s June 1914 decision in the Chief Johnson case, the circuit was nevertheless able to convince several players to defect from organized baseball shortly after the opinion was issued. The same day...

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4. The Landis Case

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pp. 66-93

“We’re going to break up organized baseball,” Federal League president Jim Gilmore excitedly exclaimed to a reporter from Baseball Magazine on the morning of January 5, 1915. “I have just come from my lawyers. We filed this bill with Judge [Kenesaw Mountain] Landis,” he explained. Gilmore...

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5. The Long Wait

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pp. 94-111

Shortly after the Chicago hearing, organized baseball’s attorneys began preparing formal answers to the Federal League’s allegations on behalf of each of the twenty-one defendants. John Galvin and Ellis Kinkead, the National Commission’s lawyers, took the lead on the project.1 They drafted...

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6. An Aborted Trial

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pp. 112-134

In the weeks following the dismissal of the Federal League’s antitrust suit, organized baseball worked behind the scenes to resolve its budding dispute with the Baltimore Federals. The efforts to assuage the team were primarily focused on working out an arrangement between the BaltFeds and their...

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7. Baltimore Goes to Trial, Again

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pp. 135-158

Despite the press reports heralding the end of all Federal League–related litigation, the major leagues quickly learned that they had not heard the last of the Baltimore Federals. Indeed, the very same day that the team terminated its lawsuit in Philadelphia, Baltimore’s counsel sent a letter to...

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8. The Defense and Verdict

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pp. 159-187

“Gentlemen of the jury, it is bad enough to have to sit for hours and listen to witnesses,” George Pepper began his opening statement, “but you are really to be commiserated where it comes to the point where you have to listen to the talk of lawyers.” “Our friends [the plaintiff’s counsel] have been...

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9. The Appeal and Final Decision

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pp. 188-218

While organized baseball continued to lick its wounds following the verdict in Washington, its attorneys set to work preparing the appeal. The American League’s counsel, Benjamin Minor, began to draft a Bill of Exceptions—a required step in the appellate process at the time—in which the defense...

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Epilogue

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pp. 219-228

Scholars have not been kind to Justice Holmes’s decision in Federal Baseball. The opinion ranks among the most frequently criticized in Supreme Court history, with commentators declaring it “unsatisfactory,” “irrational,” and “absurd.”1 These critics typically argue that “Holmes was clearly wrong”...

Notes

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pp. 229-264

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Bibliography

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pp. 265-272

The most important primary source materials for this project were the original court papers, trial transcripts, and judicial decisions from the relevant lawsuits, as well as the original correspondence between executives from organized baseball, their attorneys, and court officials. In particular, documents from the United States Supreme Court (Case No. 204), Court of...

Index

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pp. 273-282

About the Author, Publisher Notes

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252095993
E-ISBN-10: 0252095995
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252038198

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Baseball -- Law and legislation -- United States -- History.
  • Antitrust law -- United States -- History.
  • Professional sports contracts -- United States -- History.
  • United States. Sherman Act.
  • National League of Professional Baseball Clubs -- Trials, litigation, etc.
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