Thursday, August 4, 2022

MLB's Wagner Says Umpire Schools to be Replaced by Invite-Only Placement Program

When MLB Senior Manager of Umpiring Operations Raquel Wagner reportedly announced at NASO Summit (a convention for sports officials) that the decades-old umpire school-to-Minor League Baseball pipeline will be replaced by an in-house training placement program operated by MLB itself, it came as a surprise to Hunter Wendelstedt, owner/operator of the Wendelstedt Umpire School in Ormond Beach, Florida: "I am shocked and surprised about the tweet and the news from the NASO Conference in Denver.  We are still anticipating working with Major League Baseball (MLB) to provide them with future MLB umpires since that has been the practice since 1938."

A person who wishes to become a big league umpire presently begins by enrolling in Umpire School—either the Wendelstedt Umpire School or the MiLB Umpire Training Academy—for an educational program mostly in January each offseason. The top graduates of each school then advance to an advanced course run by professional baseball, and if all goes well and the graduates continue to impress, they stand to be placed in Minor League Baseball as a full-fledged professional umpire (generally Rookie or Low A to start). Anyone who is interested and meets certain minimum qualifications (e.g., being 18 years old) can fill out a school application, pay tuition/fees (or secure a scholarship/financial aid), and attend either Wendelstedt or MiLB's Academy the following winter.

According to Wagner's statements, MLB seeks to discontinue the school-to-show system and replace it with an invitation-only course and placement program. Only one problem...

MiLB Dealt Evans a Job
...Whereas MLB owns the MiLB Umpire Training Academy, it does not own the Wendelstedt School and thus any such change would effectively kill the private entity which is presently competing with the MLB-owned Umpire Training Academy. We've already seen that MLB can effectively "kill" a competing umpire school by simply refusing to hire its graduates, as it did with the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring in 2012 after JEAPU staff engaged in racist conduct at a school-sponsored event. Seeing as MiLB hired Jim Evans as an advisor shortly thereafter, one could reasonably conclude that maybe a deal was struck.

If this sounds vaguely like a business engaging in a practice to shut down a competitor, you might possibly be right, although with Wendelstedt School still in the picture, cutting ties with Evans wouldn't result in a monopoly over the Umpire School line of business; getting rid of Wendelstedt School, however, would likely effectively eliminate all competition. Our analysis of this situation indicates this concept could very well be behind the timing of Wagner's announcement.

Since 1922, Major League Baseball has enjoyed a unique protection from adherence to USA anti-trust laws, also known as an antitrust exemption. When the Supreme Court bestowed this exemption upon professional baseball in 1922 (deeming that baseball is not interstate commerce), it reasoned that sports were different than most corporate business since it occurs in one place at a time and thus needed to operate in a way that may not fully comply with all the terms of the various federal anti-trust acts.

Over the years, MLB has cited and relied upon its anti-trust exemption to defend itself from litigation, or to engage in other business practices that may or may not be compliant with anti-trust laws.

With the United States Senate Judiciary Committee recently requesting information from MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred about MLB's anti-trust exemption, perhaps baseball is worried that a bipartisan effort might just strip the league of its exemption, and if that happens, MLB will suddenly have to play by a bunch of rules that they are not used to abiding by.

And, furthermore and most pertinent, perhaps the league hopes that by making this change from an umpire school system (in which MiLB competes with Wendelstedt) to a 100% league-controlled program, it can do so in time, and under the guard of its anti-trust exemption, lest Baseball wind up losing the exemption in the future.


Post a Comment