Court In SF Hears Arguments Against Major League Baseball’s Block Of Oakland A’s Move To San Jose

Arguing that an antitrust exemption for Major League Baseball is “the product of a bygone era,” the city of San Jose asked a federal appeals court in San Francisco today to reinstate its antitrust lawsuit against the league.

San Jose sued MLB and Commissioner Bud Selig last year in a bid to clear a possible path for the Oakland A’s club to move to San Jose in a new stadium that would be built on city land.

It claims MLB has violated antitrust laws by interfering with a possible move through a territorial rights rule and a four-year delay by an MLB committee that is studying the potential relocation.

Under the territorial rule, the San Francisco Giants club has rights to the South Bay that can be overturned only by a three-fourths vote of all clubs.

The city made its arguments to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the opening brief of its appeal of a decision in which U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte of San Jose dismissed the antitrust claims last year.

Whyte based his ruling on a 1922 U.S. Supreme Court decision that specifically exempted baseball from federal antitrust laws.
The city’s brief contends that exemption is “outdated” and a “highly questionable precedent.”

But because only the Supreme Court can overrule itself, the appeals-court-level brief focuses on arguing that the exemption should be interpreted very narrowly to apply only to player-management labor disputes and not to relocation issues.

It asks the appeals court to allow a trial in San Jose to fill out the facts of its claims.

“There is no basis to conclude—without any factual inquiry—that MLB’s ability to block the relocation of the Athletics to a lucrative market like San Jose is in any way essential to our national pastime,” the city’s lawyers wrote.

MLB’s response is due by April 4, and then the city has the option of filing a final reply by April 18.

Last month, the appeals court granted San Jose an expedited fast-track schedule for the case and promised to hold a hearing on the first available calendar after the final brief is filed.

San Jose had told the court it is urgent to resolve the case quickly because an option held by the Oakland club to buy land for a stadium in San Jose will expire on Nov. 8.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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