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US lawmakers challenge baseball's move to cut teams
Updated: 2001-11-10 15:14

Three Democratic members of the US Congress plan to introduce legislation next week to trim Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption in response to its intentions to abolish two teams, aides said on Friday in Washington.

The lawmakers hope their action will save the teams. But but even if it does not, they want to send a message to wealthy owners Congress will not ignore what it see as their arbitrary decisions and was prepared to change the rules, aides said.

"At a minimum, I hope it will give owners pause before moving forward with any decision over League contraction," said Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat.

Wellstone and Sen. Mark Dayton, also a Minnesota Democrat, plan to introduce their bill in the Senate on Tuesday or Wednesday, while Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, intends to offer a similar measure in the House, aides said.

Major League Baseball had no immediate comment on Friday.

In a 28-2 vote on Tuesday, the league agreed to eliminate two of its 30 teams, widely expected to be the Minneapolis Twins and the Montreal Expos.

In 1922, the US Supreme Court made baseball the only major league sport exempt from federal anti-trust laws, ruling it was a game, not interstate commerce.

Major League Baseball's exemption allows it to enter joint ventures and exercise monopolistic powers to increase prices or decrease product.

The legislation being crafted by Wellstone, Dayton and Conyers would eliminate Major League Baseball's exemption from anti-trust laws when it comes to abolishing or relocating teams, aides said.

That would mean such decisions could at least be challenged in court without any anti-trust protection.

Over the years, there has been a number of failed efforts to strip the exemption. In 1998, however, Congress limited the exemption in labor relations.

"Senator Wellstone knows this is going to be an uphill battle, but there is a lot of concern that owners clearly overstepped their bounds," an aide said.

While it was uncertain how such legislation would do on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, appeared supportive.

"Senator Daschle's position is that Major League Baseball in general and the Twins in particular are deeply important to the people of South Dakota and the Upper Plain States, not just economically but culturally," an aide said.

"He feels that Major League Baseball should see the seriousness which the Congress is taking this issue as an indicator that they should look seriously at how the decisions they make will affect communities," the aide said.

On Thursday, Wellstone and Dayton wrote President George W. Bush, a former part owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, asking him to back their bill.

"Without your support, we believe it will be extremely difficult to move this legislation forward," they wrote. "As a former team owner, we have no doubt you understand what an important issue this is."

As of Friday, the senators had not received a response.

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