Skip to content

The San Jose lawsuit against Major League Baseball should be thrown out of court

Jun 18, 2013, 4:32 PM EDT

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 4.25.22 PM

So I’ve read over the lawsuit filed by San Jose against Major League Baseball. Initial reaction: it’s more full of crap than Bob Melvin’s office was on Sunday afternoon.

The essence of the suit: Major League Baseball is a monopoly. It should be an unlawful monopoly. This would-be unlawful monopoly is preventing the Athletics from moving to San Jose and that has caused San Jose all manner of financial harm.

Which, yes, sounds reasonable. Major League Baseball is anti-competitive and does have a monopoly that should go the way of the dodo and vaudeville for the simple reason that it serves no purpose as noble and grand as either the dodo or vaudeville did.  But the suit is not anything that should pass legal muster here, and I believe it will go down in flames.

As I said in the earlier post, courts do not entertain lawsuits from parties without standing to sue and the city of San Jose hasn’t asserted anything in this complaint that persuades me that they have standing. Or that they have been damaged in any way that a court will consider worthy of redress. Broadly speaking, they have claimed that (a) they have a contract with the owners of the Oakland A’s with which Major League Baseball’s actions have interfered; and (b) that the city has incurred or will incur — note the “will” — financial damages as a result of the A’s not moving to San Jose. Let’s break those down:

The tortious interference with a contract claim:  The contract claim is baed on an option agreement entered into in 2011 between the A’s owners and San Jose for the purchase of some land on which a ballpark would be built. The A’s paid San Jose $50,000 for the option. It expires this fall. If they want to keep the option open for another year it’s another $25,000. If the A’s owners were to buy the land, they can do it for between $6 million and $7 million. Nothing in the option agreement, however, promises that the A’s will actually move. It doesn’t even promise that they’ll buy the land. Just that they have the option to do so.

San Jose, however, seems to be attempting to bootstrap this option into a promise that the A’s would actually move there and that MLB’s rules preventing the A’s from moving have thus interfered with that expectation. That’s a bridge too far. A bridge longer than the Dumbarton, actually. The only guarantee San Jose gets out of that contract is $50-75K. The only thing it’s giving up is the right to sell that land for the period of the option. Major League Baseball has not stopped the A’s from paying their $50-75K.

San Jose’s insistence that more has been lost here is based on an assertion that the A’s have indicated a willingness to move to San Jose. Well, yes, they have. But they haven’t done anything to act on it yet because they know they can’t. At the minimum, I would think a court would need to have evidence that the A’s actually took a concrete step to pay San Jose $7 million for that land, to actually move to San Jose only to have had Major League Baseball stop that from happening. There is no suggestion, however, that any such evidence exists.

The financial damages: It’s all future tense. San Jose would have gotten increased tax revenue, would have gotten good paying stadium construction jobs, would have seen economic development and would have had a more healthy municipal budget had the A’s moved. Those are all speculative, prospective damages* not actual damages, and courts are not in the business of providing redress for speculative, prospective damages. Tomorrow Lew Wolff could say “you know what? I always wanted to move the A’s to Bakersfield. We’re moving to Bakersfield.” If he did that, San Jose would have no recourse. So they certainly have no recourse against Major League Baseball for preventing a speculative A’s-to-San Jose move.

*Probably also worth noting that the complaint spends a lot of time talking about all the economic benefits of ballpark development. These benefits have been largely debunked. I sorta hope this suit goes far, however, so that MLB would find itself in the odd position of having to explain how such damages are illusory, contrary to their tack for the past 25 years or so.

I think Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption is abhorrent. I wish it were gone and think, in the right lawsuit, it could be defeated. If the A’s had filed this suit, for example, claiming that MLB is preventing them from moving and that MLB’s insistence that they stay in Oakland has caused them financial damages, I think it would have a puncher’s chance. And I’d be shaking my pompoms, cheering it on. But they didn’t file it. San Jose did. And San Jose has no legal rights that seem remotely impinged upon here.

Which, it should be worth noting, may be the idea. It’s quite possible that this suit is more a political document than a legal one, with San Jose’s mayor trying to focus attention on the languishing A’s-to-San Jose thing and to get public opinion on the side of the A’s and the city.  Maybe this will do that, maybe it won’t. I’d have to know the political dynamics of the Bay Area better than I do to have an idea.

But I do think that for it to have any practical use in creating leverage it has to at least present a legal threat, and this doesn’t do that. Indeed, I think Major League Baseball is way more worried about losing its antitrust exemption than any bad PR that can come out of Oakland, so they’re likely to fight this suit until it’s dead.

Which should be quickly. Because the suit is no better than the stuff bubbling up through the Oakland Coliseum’s pipes and should be thrown out.

Latest Posts
  1. The A’s-Royals game did pretty well in the ratings

    Oct 1, 2014, 4:34 PM EDT

    old TV

    The Tuesday wild card game got ratings 14% higher than last year’s Tuesday wild card game.

  2. Wild Card Game: Giants vs. Pirates lineups

    Oct 1, 2014, 4:04 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 4.03.08 PM Getty Images

    Not a ton of surprises. Gaby Sanchez in at first over Ike Davis because of the lefty on the hill. Otherwise, play ball.

  3. Twins to interview Hall of Famer Paul Molitor for manager opening

    Oct 1, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT

    Paul Molitor Twins Getty Images

    Ron Gardenhire was fired Monday after 13 seasons, the last four of which have seen the Twins lose 90 or more games.

  4. Odd, and unfulfilling, season ends for A’s

    Oct 1, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT

    Eric Sogard A's Getty Images

    Somehow, it all seemed to tie this strange 2014 season together in one fitting package, though the end result wasn’t what anyone in green and gold wanted.

  5. Cardinals’ playoff rotation does not include Michael Wacha

    Oct 1, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT

    wacha getty Getty Images

    Adam Wainwright will start Game 1 against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

  6. Sorry! The “Royals showed those ‘Moneyball’ nerds!” narrative doesn’t hold water

    Oct 1, 2014, 2:36 PM EDT

    royals logo Getty Images

    The Royals, like just about every other team in baseball, have an analytics department. Apologies if that messes with your preconceptions.

  7. Lyle Overbay is “99.9 percent sure” he’s retiring

    Oct 1, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT

    Milwaukee Brewers v San Francisco Giants Getty Images

    At least he got to pitch this season. That was fun.

  8. The beauty of belief

    Oct 1, 2014, 1:53 PM EDT

    Nosotros Creemos! Getty Images

    The Royals may not have won the AL Wild Card if not for the confounding decisions of manager Ned Yost.

  9. Carlos Ruiz undergoes shoulder surgery

    Oct 1, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT

    Carlos Ruiz AP AP

    He hit just .229 with a .659 OPS in 67 games after June 1 and batted .193 in September.

  10. The woman who was going to get a puppy if the Royals won? Yeah, she’s getting a puppy

    Oct 1, 2014, 1:34 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 1.33.41 PM

    But there’s a tale of bribery involved in all of this too.

  11. Pirates go with three catchers on Wild Card game roster

    Oct 1, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT

    russell martin getty Getty Images

    Starting pitchers Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole off the Wild Card game roster, which is fairly typical.

  12. The Diamondbacks announce their managerial candidates

    Oct 1, 2014, 12:11 PM EDT

    diamondbacks logo

    Not a ton of glitzy names here. At least not yet.

  13. Could Billy Beane bust up the A’s?

    Oct 1, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

    Billy Beane Billy Beane

    The A’s went all-in and busted. Now what will Billy Beane do?

  14. Adam Dunn still plans to retire

    Oct 1, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT

    Adam Dunn AP

    Adam Dunn has no problem with not playing last night. And, apparently, does not plan to play again.

  15. Derek Jeter launches an athlete publishing portal: “The Players’ Tribune”

    Oct 1, 2014, 9:02 AM EDT

    derek jeter getty Getty Images

    He says it will allow athletes a place to talk with “no filter.” In reality, it’s likely to have way, way more filters than what currently exist.

Featured video

Pitching vs. history in NL wild card game
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. D. Jeter (3443)
  2. C. Kershaw (2626)
  3. R. Martin (2611)
  4. A. Rodriguez (2194)
  5. D. Gordon (2018)
  1. J. Altuve (1974)
  2. J. Hamilton (1961)
  3. I. Suzuki (1760)
  4. D. Ortiz (1745)
  5. E. Volquez (1732)