Federal judge dismisses antitrust claims against MLB in the battle to move A’s to San Jose

The Oakland Athletics didn't move on to the ALCS on Thursday night, and on Friday their chances of moving to San Jose took a step backward too, as a federal judge dismissed antitrust claims against MLB.

First a little background: The A's need a new stadium, anybody with a nose can tell you that. The City of San Jose has been wooing the A's for a few years now, having drawn up for plans for the ballpark, named it and everything. The San Francisco Giants, however, claim to have territorial rights to San Jose. A vote by MLB owners could overturn those rights, but Commissioner Bud Selig has dragged his feet on that. So that's why the City of San Jose sued MLB in June.

Caught up? Good. On Friday, a federal judge ruled on whether the lawsuit had merit. He tossed out a big part of it and kept a smaller piece. The San Jose Mercury News breaks down the specifics of the ruling, and how, somewhat confusingly, both sides are claiming victory. That's the legal system for you.

U.S. District Judge Ronald M. Whyte in a 26-page ruling agreed with MLB that a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions dating to 1922 granted an exemption from antitrust law to the entire "business of baseball" including team relocation. He also dismissed the city's unfair competition claims.

"Ninety-nine percent of this case is gone," MLB lawyer John Keker said. "And we're confident that once the rest of the case is developed, the rest of the case will be gone."

But Whyte upheld the city's right to pursue a case arguing that MLB interfered with an option agreement between the A's and San Jose for downtown ballpark land. Lawyers for San Jose saw that as a victory for the city and the A's, who lost a playoff series against Detroit Thursday.

"It's excellent!" said Philip Gregory, a lawyer for San Jose. "The judge has upheld our tort claims against Major League Baseball. Clearly, he wants the case to go forward. The A's may have lost last night, but the A's and the city of San Jose won today."

San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo, one of the big proponents of bringing the A's to town and a driving force behind this lawsuits, rationalized Friday's ruling this way:

"We're able to force Major League Baseball to testify in defense of their anti-competitive conduct," he told the Mercury News, "while having the opportunity to appeal the antitrust issues."

Next, this case could go to trial. The city wants it to happen as soon as next spring. MLB thinks that's too soon. As far as we're concerned, though, Bud Selig talking the stand to testify about a sewage-filled baseball stadium can't come soon enough.

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