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Nathaniel Grow

Major League Baseball has faced its share of anti-trust lawsuits, most recently about minor league salaries and the Oakland A's potential move. But the first of these lawsuits started 100 years ago in Chicago. 

To shed some light on the history of the league's court battles, NPR sports show Only A Game spoke with Terry legal studies professor Nathaniel Grow, who authored "Baseball on Trial: The Origin of Baseball’s Anti-Trust Exemption."

An excerpt of that interview follows:

Bill Littlefield: The Federal League’s complaint against Major League Baseball was 92 pages long,  I’m hoping you can sum up the important issues in 30 seconds or less…

Nathaniel Grow: "I’ll try. Basically the argument was the Federal League had been launching this challenge, trying to create a third Major League alongside the American and National Leagues, and they argued that the American League and National Leagues had effectively monopolized the industry — that the leagues had tied up basically all 10,000-plus professional-caliber players in the country, making it impossible for  any new league to come into existence and challenge their supremacy.

"And so they said that under the federal antitrust laws, the Sherman Act, that this was an illegal monopoly, and that this is something the court should address by striking down the baseball monopoly and giving leagues like the Federal League enough of a chance to compete."

BL: "Judge Landis was known as a “trust buster” for issuing a then-record $29-million judgment for anti-competitive practices against the Standard Oil Company. But he was also known as a great baseball fan. Did the Federal League’s lawyers not take the latter into account when they brought their suit to Landis’ court?"

NG: "That’s a really good question. The Federal League was based out of Chicago where Judge Landis was located. Throughout Chicago he had this reputation for being a huge baseball fan; he was apparently a particularly rowdy fan of the Chicago Cubs in their championship years back in the early 1900s. So given Landis’ stature in the community and the Federal League was largely based out of Chicago, I think that they probably knew about it, and, if anything, they might have thought it would probably help them having a jurist who knew the system and understood the contract terms that they were going to be talking about — that that might give him a little more insight into what they were challenging."

The full interview is available to read or listen to online.