Senate delays antitrust exemption vote

October 01, 1993|By Cox News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Judiciary Committee decided yesterday to delay a showdown with baseball team owners over their right to keep tight control of the major and minor leagues.

The committee decided not to vote on a bill by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, to strip Major League Baseball of its antitrust exemption. Instead, members voted unanimously to authorize his antitrust subcommittee to hold more hearings on complaints from fans, taxpayers, players, vendors and from communities trying to lure or keep professional baseball teams.

The hearings will start this fall, and the committee will try to decide next year whether legislation is justified, the committee members agreed.

Among the senators' complaints were:

* The team owners failed to name a successor to Fay Vincent, the commissioner they ousted last year, or to agree to delegate more power to a new commissioner.

* Some home games will switch from free TV broadcasts to premium-channel cable TV.

* Some fans won't be able to see their favorite team's playoff games, because of plans to telecast them regionally.

* Owners extract tax-paid stadiums and local and state tax breaks from communities trying to lure or keep major- or minor-league teams.

* Firms owned by minorities or women should get more vending and supplier contracts.

* Disputes over salary caps and free-agency rules could lead to a players' strike.

On the other hand, said Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., the committee's newest member, chaos could result if baseball loses the antitrust exemption it won in a Supreme Court decision in 1922.

"There's some question as to whether our dabbling does more harm than good," Moseley Braun said. She deplored "the huge mess" she said resulted from the decision by Congress last year to re-regulate cable television rates.

But other committee members competed with each other in issuing warnings about what they might do next year if the owners don't change their ways.

"Unless baseball gets its act together in a way that is monumentally different from where they are now, this committee will be back with the votes that will change the status of baseball," chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., said.

"Unless baseball acts very quickly on a commissioner, I think the votes will be there to report this bill out," said Sen. Hank Brown, R-Colo., who hasn't come down on either side.

"Nobody should go away from here thinking they escaped the bullet," said Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo. "The fans are getting lost in the process."

Baseball officials said they were pleased the committee took no action, but Milwaukee Brewers president Bud Selig, chairman of the ruling Executive Council, was guarded with his remarks.

"We're very sensitive to the thoughts of the Senate Judiciary Committee," Selig said in Milwaukee. "We feel that this year has been a very constructive year as we move to the conclusion of many important subjects."

Neither Metzenbaum nor the owners' most vocal defender on the committee, ranking Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, was willing yesterday to call for a vote by the 18-member committee.

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