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February 20, 2008

Exceptional Exemption

Filed under: Baseball — Tags: , , , , — Perich @ 11:00 am

More than once in the last few months I’ve heard someone ask, “What business does Congress have investigating steroid and HGH use in Major League Baseball?” And while I agree that it’s stupid, and a waste of time (and possibly wrong), there is precedent.

Not everyone knows that Major League Baseball has a special exemption to the Sherman Antitrust Act, the 1890 law that governs how inter-state businesses may conduct themselves without being prosecuted as monopolies. MLB is a monopoly. They have wielded that power explicitly in the past, most famously to prevent players from separating themselves from teams and to prevent teams from moving to different cities.

There’s no actual law on the books that says, “Major League Baseball is exempt from antitrust regulations,” but there’s the next best thing: eighty years of court precedent. In 1922, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the majority opinion on Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore vs. National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, saying that the “interstate commerce clause” didn’t technically govern interstate travel to play away games. The exemption was upheld in 1953 (Toolson v. New York Yankees), when the Supreme Court said that “Congress had no intention of including the business of baseball within the scope of the federal antitrust laws.”

So Major League Baseball lives in a special legal pocket. Is that the only thing getting Congress’ attention?

Not quite. Almost all MLB teams and stadiums reap the rewards of sweetheart deals with local politicians. The New York Yankees have been deducting five million dollars a year from their taxes since 2001. Tampa Bay’s no longer getting a sixty million dollar sales tax refund on their new stadium, but they’re still hoping the state of Florida will sell them the new land at a discount. Breaks like these always come in the name of “creating jobs” (out of what? fairy dust and wishes?) or “revitalizing” a particular neighborhood.

All politics is local, as Tip O’Neill famously observed, and he was Speaker of the House. A member of Congress answers to their constituents. They answer to the local party machine: the neighborhood wards that run their campaign ads and put up their posters. So the state of Arizona’s investment in the Diamondbacks gives John McCain an interest, justified or not, in how MLB conducts its affairs.

Finally, recall that the President becomes the de facto pace-setter of the party he represents. Recall also that the Republicans controlled Congress for years, even if they’re no longer the majority, so they have most of the plum committee seats. And above all else, recall that the current President is the former owner of the Texas Rangers. If that doesn’t tell you enough about Congress’s interest in baseball, then go back to reading the funny pages.

October 18, 2007

I fought the law, and the law won

Filed under: Baseball — Tags: , , , , , — Willis @ 1:25 am

MoneyballWe all know Major League Baseball is a big money making business. Well that business thinks that it needs to protect itself from stats nerds like us. Because we’re using those stats to create a fantasy world of increased baseball enjoyment. This is nothing new — in 2006 CBC Media (a small fantasy site) sued the MLB because they didn’t think they should fork over some dough to the MLB to use player’s name and stats. A judge ruled that CBC has first amendment rights to things publicly given to everyone in the newspaper.After that loss MLB decided to switch up their thinking. “We’ve agreed that the stats and names are in the public domain,” MLB Advanced Media spokesman Gallagher said after the ruling. “But when you start to use team’s logos and other images as CBC did, you need a license, it’s that simple.”

But that didn’t last long, because the MLB got together a team of lawyers (quick note, this team of lawyers would still finish ahead of the Devil Rays in the standings) to keep fighting the good fight. Just a few months ago as part of the appeal process one of MLB’s attorneys said that a fantasy league using names and stats without permission was analogous to a company printing posters or coffee mugs with pictures of players on them without permission. The judges appeared to be skeptical of MLB’s arguments. “MLB is like a public religion. Everyone knows (the players’) names and what they look like,” opined U.S. Judge Morris Arnold. “This is just part of being an American, isn’t it?” (more…)

September 17, 2007

“Car 54, Where Are You?”

Filed under: Racing — Tags: , , — Peiser @ 10:17 am

He’s back at it again. To be sure, he never stopped. Jonathan Lee Riches, the “Litigator Crusader,” f/k/a “the White Suge Knight,” d/b/a “Secured Party” will not be denied:

Plaintiff compels this court to issue an injunction against Jeff Gordon and stop him from: Sticking my head in his exhaust pipe, wife swapping with Jimmie Johnson, picking on kids with big wheels and go carts, driving off without paying at Sunoco stations.

I’m pretty sure this is just becoming how he reacts to something he’s not happy about in the Williamsburg Federal Correctional Institution. Somebody’s watching TV and the volume’s too high? Sue the TV set. Awoken by a tire screech? Sue Jeff Gordon. Riches is (perhaps I’m overreaching here) fairly smart about it, however; he keeps changing venue, thus potentially avoiding some sanctions, not pissing off the same clerk twice, and diversifying the pool of courtroom beat reporters who might pick him up for the mainstream press.

It seems to me that this suit was, measured from filing, the fastest to hit a major media outlet. When I want press, I’ll talk about NASCAR. But I’m gonna try to avoid being “baseless, fantastic and delusional.”

August 5, 2007

He Had A Hammer

Filed under: Baseball — Tags: , , , , , , — Peiser @ 12:13 pm

When Hank Aaron tied and subsequently broke Babe Ruth’s record of 714 Home Runs, the socio-political backdrop involved a great deal of deeply entrenched racism. Hammerin’ Hank played in the South, and his career spanned Brown and Swann— the heyday of the Civil Rights movement, as the Supreme Court dragged the American people into the present, into reality, kicking and screaming. The novel concept that people are people, nobody’s got a god-given right to be held above a fellow human- that took a while to sink in, and still hasn’t quite fully done so. Racism will, sadly, forever dog American history, and will never be fully expelled from our society. Indeed, it’s one of those troubling real-world things that baseball is designed to help us escape. Baseball’s just a game, baseball’s more than a game, baseball is tied to our national soul, baseball’s been racist, baseball’s atoned, baseball will never fully atone.

Hank Aaron’s first two home runs of 1974 were surrounded by death threats, bigotry, excitement, and downright jubilation. It seems terribly exciting- if anyone who remembers it first-hand would comment here I’d appreciate it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of an internet in 1974, and pretty much anything contemporaneous about Hank that’s worth reading involves paid archives. So here’s a link to his well-crafted Wikipedia page and the suggestion that you go out and read something about Hank at your local library. He was a quiet, likable titan of sport, from all accounts. Hank played in the Negro Leagues, the “separate but equal” place to see damn fine baseball through most of the 20th Century, at the beginning of his career, and went from there to a long career as one of the super-elite three or four most consistent offensive producers in baseball’s history (Ruth, Williams, Cobb, I’d say).

Here’s a teaser for what looks to be a pretty decent documentary on Hank’s time with the Eau Claire Bears: Youtube.

And now Barry Bonds. He’s tied Aaron. The internet has it covered. He’s no pioneer, he’s a cheater, he’s a terrific hitter, he’s a circus, he’s ultimately a letdown. I prefer to cling to 755 as the important number, wherever Barry ends up, and to celebrate Aaron, and pretty much agree with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Terrence Moore:

Actually, Aaron is still in it, but in a wonderful way. Whenever those among the public hear Bonds’ name, either positively or negatively, they usually hear Aaron’s name soon afterward. Not only that, when Aaron’s name does surface during conversations involving Bonds, Aaron’s name often is surrounded by implied hugs and kisses. In fact, Bonds once told me with a smile at his locker at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, “I’m helping to keep Hank’s name out there.”

That’s nice of Bonds, but Aaron really doesn’t need his help. For 23 Hall of Fame seasons without the hint of scandal, the eternal king of home-run kings helped himself, thank you.

Unlike George Herman Ruth last time around, Aaron’s still alive, and I think he’s been pretty classy- all things considered. We can only speculate what Ruth would have said or done in April 1974, but I personally doubt he would have taken things in stride; I mean, I get pissed when my bar trivia scores get beaten, I can’t imagine if I had the all-time home run record.

Can’t wait to see how Barry handles it. C’mon, A-Rod.

July 29, 2007

Onwards to Vick-tory!

Jonathan Lee Riches is my new hero. Oh, wait, sorry, I meant Jonathan Lee Riches©. Nothing warms my heart like a seriously disturbed pro se litigant suing a dog-fighting, herpes-passing, ganja-toting NFL player in federal court.

He’s done what none of us non-Federal-inmates have had the stones to do, and sued Michael Vick. The allegations seem to ‘focus’ -if that word is even close to appropriate- on Vick’s penchant for stealing this guy’s dogs and “using his copyrights.” This last the nefarious Vick accomplished by “selling T-shirts, Jonathan Lee Riches mugs.” Funny, I didn’t know Vick used another alias.  Mr Riches© seeks 63 BILLION dollars in damages.  I mean, the poor QB’s already got PETA, the FBI, the IRS, the NFL, and I think Baskin-Robbins gunning for him; does he need to get hit with a crazy suit right now?  (Yes, of course it will be tossed from court; Michael Vick is not a federal agent open to a Bivens action… at least, I don’t think he is.)

Nutty lawsuits, even those handwritten from prison but dressed in the expected formalities, are nothing new. But there’s something special about this guy; this isn’t the first time he’s done this.  Jonathan Lee Riches is the Mozart of deranged lawsuits. There’s Riches v. Bush et al., a suit filed last year in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania which named Chris Berman, Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, the Ming Dynasty, eBay, and the Statue of Liberty as defendants. Also Malcom X, Vanna White, and Michelangelo. And Waffle House. Also the Hubble Telescope, Expedia, and Emeka Okafor.  Depositions must have been a gas- gotta feel for the paralegal who was dispatched to find Jimmy Hoffa.

I can’t say he’s entirely in the wrong. He did sue the drafters of the Uniform Commercial Code.  Can’t wait to see what he does next.

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