Federal antitrust law is a significant legacy of the politics and the political thought of American progressivism. Antitrust law represents an approach to the regulation of the economy born in the last decades of the nineteenth century in the face of burgeoning industrialization. Baseball was born in Jacksonian America. It was a sport played by fraternal clubs. It was a recreational activity that created camaraderie among neighbors and fellow toilers in the new urban workplace.
By 1890, when the Sherman Antitrust Act became the law of the land, baseball had grown into a professional commercial enterprise. The National League had already replaced the National Association of Professional Baseball Players as organized baseball’s dominant institution and the game had already experienced the turmoil of strained labor/management relations that would be commonplace in the Industrial Age. 1 As the new century dawned, American industry flowered in the soil of progressivism’s vision of industrial regulation, while baseball’s evolution continued unchecked by the laws of commerce. By 1912, when the Clayton Antitrust Act gave further definition to the rules of the game in the realm of interstate commerce, baseball had weathered considerable turmoil in its ranks as a result of player revolts and interleague wars. Despite its highly visible strife, Major League Baseball, unlike any other industry of its scope, would never be forced to fully comply with federal antitrust law, nor would it fall under the jurisdiction of any federal regulatory agency. The celebrated Holmes decision of 1922 would suspend Major League Baseball in a seemingly preindustrial state.