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San Jose sues Major League Baseball, challenging its monopoly power

Jun 18, 2013, 2:27 PM EDT

Chuck Reed San Jose

The City of San Jose has sued Major League Baseball in an effort to get the Oakland A’s to relocate to San Jose, to challenge the Giants claim to rights over the territory and to challenge Major League Baseball’s long-standing monopoly power.

The lawsuit, a copy of which can be seen here, and which is analyzed in-depth here, alleges that Major League Baseball has caused San Jose to lose prospective financial benefits and deals by virtue of the A’s moving there and violations of state and federal antitrust laws.

This will get big headlines, but until I see the lawsuit or have someone tell me otherwise, I can’t see how the City of San Jose would have a leg to stand on. Literally: I think legal standing is a big, big problem here.

Standing, for purposes of a lawsuit, is the idea that focuses on whether a plaintiff in a lawsuit can show that he or she some personal legal interest that has been damaged by the defendant. It is not enough that the plaintiff has an interest of sorts or a prospective interest. It has to be a concrete personal stake in the outcome of the suit. You may be very interested in a big real estate deal going down, but you can’t sue the people involved for not letting you into the deal on the idea that, “man, I would’ve made a ton of money!”  You have to be in the deal already and have your rights violated.

I don’t see how San Jose has that standing here. Yes, they would benefit greatly from the A’s moving to San Jose and yes MLB’s monopoly rules which control where franchises can and cannot be are preventing it. But they are not party to those rules. They have no hard and fast deal with the Oakland A’s yet. There have been statements of principles and plans announced pending MLB approval of an A’s move, but nothing hard and in stone. Indeed, if the A’s had committed to San Jose in such a way already, the Giants and/or Major League Baseball likely would have sued them by now.

I hate baseball’s monopoly power. I think it makes watching games on TV difficult and I think it makes the game less competitive by keeping teams from doing everything they can to compete. But that doesn’t give me the right to sue Major League Baseball over it. The A’s in San Jose would make San Jose’s life way better too, many would argue. But just because they’re not doesn’t give San Jose the right to sue either. What would make this different is if Lew Wolff and the A’s were involved. And I find it almost impossible to believe that they would be.

UPDATE: How about more than impossible the A’s would be involved here. From Michael McCann’s column about Frank McCourt back in 2011 in Sports Illustrated:

MLB could also highlight the “waiver of recourse” clause found in the MLB constitution. This clause prevents clubs from engaging in litigation against the commissioner, the league or other owners. Indeed, by virtue of becoming a franchise owner, an owner waives away the right to seek remedies that would normally be available through the legal system. The clause also compels owners to resolve their differences internally and to accept the commissioner’s judgment as binding.

This would prevent the A’s from joining in.  I’m told the San Jose complaint, however, alleges that the MLB Constitution is expired now. Which would be odd, but that’s the claim. Likely asserted so that the A’s could later join the suit if it gets further down the road.

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