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University of Oregon law Review (2011)
  • Mitchell J Nathanson, Villanova
This article is the second in the author’s series examining the interplay between baseball and the law (the first being The Sovereign Nation of Baseball: Why Federal Law Does Not Apply To “America’s Game” And How It Got That Way, 16 Vill. Sports & Ent. L.J. 49 (2009)). The Sovereign Nation of Baseball provided the groundwork for this series by discussing how federal courts have historically deferred to those who have traditionally run Major League Baseball (the office of the Commissioner of Baseball as well as the cabal of club owners), bending the rules that would otherwise dictate the resolution of legal issues in their continuing effort to protect and promote “America’s Game.” Truly Sovereign At Last brings this analysis up to the present day and peeks into the future by discussing how changes within the governing structure of the Major League game, as well as larger societal shifts beginning in the 1960’s, have perhaps altered the nature of the federal judiciary’s traditional deference. In this vein, the Eighth Circuit’s 2007 C.B.C. Distribution v. MLB AM ruling may prove to be a bellwether decision in that the court both stuck with tradition and departed from it all at once. On the one hand, the court’s ruling was, in many ways, consistent with prior decisions in that it, not unlike many courts since the Supreme Court created baseball’s antitrust exemption in 1921, suspended the normal rules of law (in this instance, MLB AM’s acknowledged rights of publicity) that otherwise would have dictated the outcome of a case and held instead that baseball’s elevated status necessitated a different result in the interest of protecting this national asset. On the other, however, the C.B.C. decision marked a departure from tradition because here, although the court took pains to ensure that its ruling protected the concept of baseball (i.e., the idea of baseball as emblematic of idyllic American values), the ruling nevertheless was one that held against the traditional guardians and spokesmen of the concept of baseball -- Major League Baseball. Although historically, the concept of baseball and Major League Baseball were intertwined to the point where a ruling for the Commissioner and owners was necessarily perceived as a ruling that protected the larger concept of baseball as well, the C.B.C. court held differently, separating the concept of baseball from its Major League incarnation. In so doing, the court, perhaps unwittingly, made a bold statement: that the interests of Major League Baseball may not inevitably be consistent with the more expansive public interest in our national pastime. This was a statement that its judicial forbears most likely would have been loath to make. This article examines the factors that appear to have severed the concept of baseball from its putative Major League protectors. The decline in national status of the club owners, from an era where they were household names to the current one where they are virtually anonymous, is discussed to show how the new breed of owners (products of the corporate revolution of the 1960’s) who replaced the well-known and respected manor lords were individually stronger than their predecessors but nevertheless less able to speak forcefully on behalf of the game due to their collective anonymity and increasingly disparate interests. In addition, the emergence of the Players Association throughout the 1970’s, ‘80’s and ‘90’s is analyzed in order to show how this effectively marginalized the owners (along with the office of the Commissioner) as well. Moreover despite their newfound prominence, this article shows how the newly empowered players were nevertheless unable to become the commanding voice of the concept of baseball due to growing national distrust of their Players Association as well as its executive director, Marvin Miller, which were both depicted by both the owners and public alike as self-interested and greedy. As such, just like the new age owners, the players likewise have become an increasingly unlikely source to which a court could now comfortably defer in the interest of promoting the concept of baseball. In all, this article discusses how the public’s (judges and others) overall perception of the concept of baseball has changed over time, from one where great faith was placed in those who ran the professional game to one where mistrust in Major League Baseball’s leadership structure is engendered more often than not. As a result, and as the C.B.C. decision illustrates, judicially protecting and promoting the concept of baseball is perhaps no longer as easy as simply deferring to those in control of the game at the Major League level. As this article concludes, in the C.B.C. decision, we may have been provided a glimpse of the future with regard to the interaction between baseball and the law: the concept of baseball may be protected just as it always has been but the courts may be less likely to look to Major League Baseball for guidance on how to best achieve this goal.
  • baseball,
  • antitrust,
  • sports,
  • right of publicity,
  • fantasy baseball,
  • C.B .C. Distribution v. MLB AM
Publication Date
Winter 2011
Citation Information
Mitchell J Nathanson. "TRULY SOVEREIGN AT LAST: C.B.C. DISTRIBUTION v. MLB AM AND THE REDEFINITION OF THE CONCEPT OF BASEBALL" University of Oregon law Review Vol. 89 Iss. 2 (2011)
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