Antitrust ball started rolling in Baltimore


Blame it on Baltimore.

The Baltimore Terrapins, the city's Federal League franchise, filed a lawsuit in 1917 that led to Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption.

The team's owners, Ned Hanlon, Harry Goldman and Carroll W. Rasin, wanted a major-league franchise as part of the Federal League settlement with the major leagues after the 1915 season. Two other Federal League owners had purchased major-league teams. So the Terrapins brass made a personal appeal, offering $250,000 for a franchise.

The major-league magnates mocked the idea of giving a franchise to Baltimore.

"Baltimore, a minor-league city, and not a hell of a good one at that," Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey said in court documents.

The response of Brooklyn Dodgers owners Charles Ebbets made Comiskey's reply seem innocuous.

"It is one of the worst minor-league towns in this country," said Ebbets, who lost money in Baltimore. "You have too many colored population to start with. They are a cheap population when it gets down to paying their money at the gate."

The miffed members of the Terrapins delegation declined settlement offers of up to $75,000. Instead, they filed an antitrust lawsuit on Sept. 20, 1917. A year and a half later, the jury ruled for the Terrapins. The judge awarded them triple damages of $254,000. But the court of appeals reversed the decision. In 1922, the Supreme Court also ruled against the Terrapins by claiming baseball was not interstate commerce and not subject to the Sherman Antitrust Act.

"Exhibitions of baseball," Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, ". . . are purely state affairs."

That's how baseball's antitrust exemption began.

Even with the advent of radio, television and airplane travel that made baseball interstate commerce, the Supreme Court has twice refused to take away the game's exemption. In the 1972 case over the reserve clause involving Curt Flood, the court ruled: "If there is any inconsistency or illogic in all this, it is an inconsistency and illogic of long standing that is to be remedied by the Congress not by this Court."

Flood lost his case. The exemption has been in congressional hands ever since.

The 1922 Supreme Court decision known as Federal Baseball was not a big loss for the people of Baltimore. But the demise of the Baltimore Terrapins in 1915 was. The city did not see big-league baseball for another 39 years.

To make matters worse, Baltimore lost another local jewel because of the Terrapins. Jack Dunn, owner of the minor-league Baltimore Orioles, moved his team to Richmond, Va., for the 1915 season and sold off his best players. Dunn sold the Boston Red Sox a young pitcher named George Herman Ruth.

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