In a complaint filed today, four minor league baseball teams sued Major League Baseball for violating the Sherman Act by allegedly orchestrating an agreement among its clubs to eliminate 40 minor league teams (out of 160) from being affiliated with major league clubs.

The Staten Island Yankees, Tri-City Valley Cats, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes and Norwich Sea Unicorns allege that MLB “collectively decided to artificially reduce the number” of affiliated minor league teams to cut expenses, instead of allowing the free market to determine which minor league teams will survive and prosper.  The Plaintiffs allege they brought the suit given the Supreme Court’s recent signaling in NCAA v. Alston, 141 S. Ct. 2141 (2021) of its willingness to reconsider MLB’s exemption from antitrust scrutiny:

Virtually no other business in the United States would have even considered such a brazen horizontal agreement among competing businesses. MLB and its Clubs, however, had no such qualms because for almost a century they have laid claim to an anomalous, judicially created “get-out-of-jail-free card” from antitrust scrutiny. The so-called “baseball exemption” from the Sherman Act was first articulated by the Supreme Court in Federal Baseball Club v. National League, 259 U.S. 200 (1922). . . . In its recent unanimous decision in NCAA v. Alston, 141 S. Ct. 2141 (2021), the Supreme Court signaled its willingness to reconsider the application and scope of the baseball exemption recognized in Federal Baseball.

Citing language from the Supreme Court’s opinion in NCAA v. Alston, Plaintiffs allege that they “have objectively good reasons to believe that the Supreme Court would no longer apply the ‘unrealistic,’ ‘inconsistent’ and ‘aberration[al]’ baseball antitrust exemption if presented with a proper case for considering it. This is that case.”

A judge has not yet been assigned.