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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred defended the league's antitrust exemption in a 17-page letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday. In the letter, Manfred argued MLB's antitrust exemption "has meaningfully improved the lives of Minor League players."
The letter comes after the Senate Judiciary Committee requested more information on MLB's antitrust exemption in July. The committee is looking into how the league's antitrust exemption affects a number of areas of the game, including working conditions for minor-league players.
Manfred touched on that topic in Friday's letter, arguing the antitrust exemption is a good thing for minor-league players and that it has helped bring baseball to communities "that otherwise could not economically support a professional baseball team."
Manfred argued baseball would be less accessible and more expensive for fans if the antitrust exemption was dissolved.
"Without the exemption, there would be baseball in far fewer communities, and without MLB’s substantial subsidization, the cost of attending a Minor League baseball game would be significantly higher in many places."
MLB received criticism from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2021 after the league cut 40 minor-league teams as part of a minor-league reorganization. Sanders has routinely spoken out against Manfred and MLB.
Sanders, however, is not a part of the committee looking into MLB's antitrust exemption. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin is leading the committee, which also features Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. Durbin and Blumenthal are members of the Democratic party and Grassley and Lee represent the Republics, making it a bipartisan group.
Manfred also argued the league spends "$108,000 on a per capita basis on Minor League player compensation and benefits." He noted that 58 percent of minor-league players receive bonuses of at least $100,000. The players who do not receive those bonuses, "Generally will have very short baseball careers and transition to other careers in their early-twenties, and are truly seasonal employees who are free to obtain other employment or continue their education during the off-season," per Manfred.
MLB considers minor leaguers to be temporary or seasonal workers. Minor-league players are not compensated during the baseball offseason, and made as little as $3,000 to $7,500 in a single year in 2015. Minor-league pay has increased since then, but many players still fail to make minimum wage. The antitrust exemption prevents minor-league players from playing baseball elsewhere to supplement their income.
Manfred said minor-league players receive health and housing benefits, meals and tuition reimbursement, which, he argued, are "benefits that are not available to most college-age employees in this country when they enter the workforce.” Manfred said he believes players could lose those benefits if MLB's antitrust exemption is dissolved.
Rob Manfred criticized for statements about minor-league conditions
Harry Marino, executive director at Advocates for Minor Leaguers, called some of Manfred's arguments "surprising" in a statement to Yahoo Sports.
"When it comes to the impact of baseball’s antitrust exemption on Minor League players and fans, Major League Baseball cannot get its story straight.
"Just nine days ago, Commissioner Rob Manfred said: 'I can’t think of a place where the exemption is really meaningful, other than franchise relocation.' This morning, Manfred said the opposite, claiming that the baseball exemption 'has meaningfully improved the lives of Minor League players, including their terms and conditions of employment, and has enabled the operators of Minor League affiliates to offer professional baseball in certain communities that otherwise could not economically support a professional baseball team.'
"Simply put, both of these statements cannot be true. Given that MLB continues to pay most Minor League players poverty-level wages and recently eliminated 40 Minor League teams, the positions it has taken today are surprising—to say the very least. We intend to thoroughly review the many claims set forth in today’s 17-page letter and will respond substantively in the days to come."
Marino said Advocates for Minor Leaguers will review Manfred's letter and issue additional responses over the next few days.