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Appeals court skeptical of piercing MLB antitrust exemption

SAN FRANCISCO -- A three-court panel of federal appeals judges was skeptical of a lawyer for minor league baseball players who wants to pierce the sport's antitrust exemption.

Sergio Miranda, an infielder drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2007, sued Major League Baseball, then-Commissioner Bud Selig and the 30 clubs in 2014 along with several other minor leaguers, alleging the sport's minor league reserve system violates federal antitrust law. The suit was dismissed on Sept. 24, 2015, by U.S. District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr., and the minor leaguers wants the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the action.

Baseball was granted an antitrust exemption by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922, which ruled baseball was not interstate commerce, and the Supreme Court reaffirmed its stance in 1953 and 1972.

Lawyers argued for about 15 minutes Monday before Chief Judge Sidney Runyan Thomas, Senior Circuit Judge Ferdinand Francis Fernandez, and Circuit Judge Mary Helen Murguia.

"There's been (a) 95-year history of the incorrect application of the antitrust laws to the `business of baseball," said Samuel Kornhauser, a lawyer for the minor leaguers. ""It's not 1922 where baseball was struggling."

The court did not appear to be sympathetic.

"The Supreme Court has given no indication it's changing its mind," Thomas said.

"How are we not constrained by that?" Murguia said of the Supreme Court.

A separate suit by minor leaguers alleging they are paid less than minimum wage was certified as a class action in March by the federal court in San Francisco.