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Josh Hawley, other GOP take a swing at MLB’s anti-trust exemption after All Star Game move

Bryan Lowry
·3 min read

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley is one of three Republican lawmakers who want to strike Major League Baseball’s anti-trust exemption after it decided to move the 2021 All Star Game from Georgia to Colorado.

Hawley joined Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz Tuesday as they proposed legislation to rescind the MLB’s nearly century-old anti-trust exemption, established by a 1922 Supreme Court ruling.

The push to revoke the long-standing protection follows MLB’s decision to pull the All Star Game from Georgia after passage of its sweeping new election law.

Its provisions include a new voter ID requirement, reduction in the number of ballot drop boxes and a prohibition on volunteers distributing water to voters waiting in line.

“This about preserving the ability for the democratic process to go forward,” Hawley said. “The fact that Major League Baseball would get together and try to punish a state because the elected representatives of that state and the elected governor of that state settled on a law to preserve election integrity is just unbelievable.”

A spokesman for MLB did not respond to an inquiry about the proposal.

Hawley and Cruz led the unsuccessful effort to overturn the presidential election results in January. Since then, a slew of Republican-controlled states, including Missouri and Kansas, have considered new voting restrictions and requirements.

President Joe Biden compared the Georgia law to Jim Crow-era voting restrictions during a March news conference. But he also misstated its effect on early voting by saying it reduced hours. The law actually expands the window for early voting by adding Saturdays.

Following Biden’s comments, MLB announced its decision to move the All Star Game from Atlanta.

Hawley framed the controversy as part of a broader trend of abuses in corporate power.

A day earlier, Hawley unveiled legislation that would increase anti-trust penalties, broaden criteria for pursuing anti-trust cases and prohibit mergers and acquisitions by firms with market capitalization exceeding $100 billion, a proposal aimed at Google and other tech firms.

“Monopoly and liberty do not go together. Monopoly is the enemy of the people’s freedom. That’s certainly true in Major League Baseball. It’s true in big tech,” Hawley said Tuesday, tying the two pieces of legislation together.

“And we know what the solution to that is. The solution is you break them up. The solution is trust-busting,” said Hawley, who has often cited trust-busting President Theodore Roosevelt as a hero.

It’s unlikely that the proposal to end the MLB’s anti-trust exemption moves forward in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Even if it did, it’s not clear that a competitor would emerge.

“Whether or not some competitor springs up is entirely up to the marketplace,” Lee said when asked if his expectation was that this would allow a rival league to compete with the MLB.

Hawley and Cruz both represent states with two MLB teams.

“This isn’t about being anti-baseball. It’s about being pro-fairness, pro-competition and anti-monopoly,” Hawley said when asked about the potential impact to the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals.

Lee and Cruz repeatedly noted that the other major sports leagues— the NBA, NFL and NHL— do not enjoy the same protection against competition.

Those leagues faced challenges to their dominance in the past. But the American Football League, American Basketball Association and World Hockey Association all merged with the pre-existing leagues by the 1970s.

The now-defunct USFL sought to use anti-trust laws to challenge the NFL’s dominance in the 1980s, a move largely spurred by then-New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump. The USFL won its anti-trust case, but it was awarded just $3 and the league folded as a result.