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Florida Supreme Court Rules Against Baseball’s Antitrust Exemption

October 7, 1994 GMT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday against most of major league baseball’s 72-year-old federal antitrust exemption. One justice said it defied legal logic and common sense.

The court’s decision was limited to an investigation by state Attorney General Bob Butterworth into whether National League owners conspired in 1992 to keep the San Francisco Giants from moving to St. Petersburg, Fla.

However, the ruling could have far-reaching ramifications. It may allow the players’ union to file an antitrust lawsuit in Florida against team owners and may lead to lawsuits challenging baseball’s rules on moving teams.

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Justice Ben Overton urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review baseball’s antitrust exemption.

″Times have changed significantly since the exemption was initially created,″ Overton said. ″Why one professional sport would have a judicially created antitrust exemption is a question that defies legal logic and common sense.″

Thomas Ostertag, general counsel to baseball’s commissioner, said the ruling may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

″While we are disappointed by the decision ... the state court opinion is contrary to the great weight of federal court authority on the matter,″ Ostertag said.

The court’s 5-1 ruling clears the way for Butterworth to continue his investigation. Baseball owners had stonewalled, citing the antitrust exemption.

The court said that baseball’s exemption applies only to the reserve system, not the overall business of the sport. That system involves how players move from team to team.

Baseball’s antitrust exemption was created by a 1922 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows the sport immunity from the laws designed to prevent monopolies. The high court affirmed it in 1953 and 1972.

The exemption also is under attack in Congress. The House Judiciary Committee voted last Thursday to eliminate the exemption regarding labor if owners impose new work rules on players. The measure died last Friday when the Senate refused to consider it before adjournment.

Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, an Ohio Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the state Supreme Court ruling ″confirms that major league baseball and its owners are not above the law of the land.″

Major league players have been on strike since Aug. 12, forcing the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years. No formal talks have been held since Sept. 9.

Butterworth began his investigation after the proposed $115 million sale of the Giants by Bob Lurie to a Tampa group was rejected by National League owners in November 1992.

Ten days later, Lurie signed an agreement to sell the team to another group for $100 million so the team could stay in San Francisco. Baseball owners approved that sale.