Many Americans still regard baseball as our national pastime, a bridge to sweeter days when players barnstormed across the country and fans listened to games on the radio. What few probably know is that a quirk of legal history has uniquely helped baseball to thrive: the game’s court-created exemption from the country’s antitrust laws. One hundred years ago, the Supreme Court made a determination about the nature of the game that would stick like rosin through the century.
This legal protection has given baseball a privileged position and largely protected it from competition—so far. Challenges have been brewing recently. Last year three Republican U.S. senators sought to remove the exemption as punishment for Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All-Star game out of Georgia to protest the state’s new voting law. This year a Democratic senator also endorsed the idea, out of frustration with the team owners’ lockout of players that delayed Opening Day until April 7. Neither complaint, though, had much to do with the antitrust exemption’s origin or effects.