Owners Lose Antitrust Exemption

President Clinton signed a bill Tuesday overturning part of baseball's 70-year-old antitrust exemption, putting baseball on a par with other professional sports on labor matters.

Clinton signed the Curt Flood Act of 1998 without fanfare in the Oval Office. Congress approved it unanimously earlier this month.

The new law overrides part of a 1922 Supreme Court ruling that exempted baseball from antitrust laws on grounds that it was not interstate commerce. That exemption deprived baseball players of protections enjoyed by other professional athletes and that players' association blamed for contributing to baseball's eight work stoppages since 1972, including the disastrous 232-day strike in 1994-95.

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"It is sound policy to treat the employment matters of major league baseball players under the antitrust laws in the same way such matters are treated for athletes in other professional sports," Clinton said.

The Major League Baseball Players Association said it was grateful for the new law.

"There is no doubt that players will be able to consider antitrust litigation as an option in any future dispute," union head Donald Fehr said. "Members of Congress came to understand that baseball fans would ultimately be the real beneficiaries of this act."

The president said it is "especially fitting" that the law was named for Flood, who in October 1970 refused to be traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies and battled for the right to free agency all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled against him. Flood died of throat cancer in January 1997.

"(His) enormous talents on the baseball diamond were matched by his courage off the field," Clinton said. "His bold stand set in motion the events that culminated in the bill I have signed into law."

The legislation -- which took three sessions of Congress to pass -- revokes the antitrust exemption only for labor relations, not for matters involving relocation, league expansion or the minor leagues.

Because of the Supreme Court's 1996 decision in the NFL case Brown vs. Pro Football Inc., the law has limited implications. The court ruled unionized employees cannot file antitrust suits, meaning the players' association would hve to decertify before players could challenge owners on antitrust grounds.

Flood was a member of the Cardinals' World Series-winning teams in 1964 and 1967. In a career that spanned from 1956 to 1971, Flood hit over .300 six times and batted .293.

The Supreme Court ruled against Flood in 1972. In 1975, an arbitrator granted free agency to Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, a move that effectively ended baseball's reserve system and cleared the way for today's system where players become eligible for free agency after six seasons in the major leagues.

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