In Memoriam: The New York Giants & Brooklyn Dodgers

Whether you hope "Back to the Future 2" is correct (that the New York Mets make it to the NLCS & the Cubs win the World Series in 2015) or prefer the Dodgers to advance, let us pay tribute to the event in the legal world of sports that paved the way for the mets franchise to exist and may have unintentionally created some heat between the teams in this series - the 1957 relocation of two of New York's first professional baseball franchises, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Many baseball fans, regardless of their affiliations, know some history of the New York Yankees, like how the franchise officially took on the name "Yankees" after being in New York for 10 years. What many fewer fans know about are the deep roots of the Giants and Dodgers rivalry that has existed for almost 130 years. The rivalry began when the Giants were in Manhattan and the Dodgers were in Brooklyn, and they played each other in the 1889 World Series.

Fast-forward to the 1950s where professional baseball seriously began shifting around franchises for its westward expansion. It does not take an expert to realize that having three sports franchises in the same league within a very close proximity from one another is not an economically friendly plan. The Dodgers had an old stadium that they could not sell out despite being in the pennant race each season for the decade before the move. The Giants cited "lack of fan interest" in announcing its relocation plans, which ended the longest baseball dynasty in New York to that date at 74 years.

Legal issues attached to relocation

The league owners voted, as required, to allow both teams to move. Interestingly enough, the Giants made their relocation announcement before the Dodgers made the official decision to relocate. Had the Dodgers not relocated alongside the Giants, the league owners would have had to redo the vote to determine whether the Giants alone could relocate to California.

Whenever relocation is at issue, antitrust law kicks in. In general, antitrust law on its face states that any contract to restrict trade is illegal, but the law delves deeper in the majority of cases to determine whether the restriction is reasonable according to the "rule of reason" based on numerous factors such as market share. The key is to maintain competitive balance. What competitive balance is, though, can vary from person to person, and that is where the struggle tends to sit. Interestingly enough, professional baseball received a federal antitrust exemption in 1920 that still is "good law" today. No judge wants to be the one to go down in history as the judge who overruled this law regardless of how silly the law appears today.

So, what we see teams do to make up for the fact that a team relocates and cuts into the market share of the teams already there is give some form of indemnification. For example, with the crazy current broadcast territory contracts everywhere, clubs want some form of compensation for actual damage loss or secures against any anticipated damage or loss that their market share may experience. A club will pay territorial indemnities to the disrupted clubs in the market. In this instance,  the Giants were anticipating to pay close to $1,000,000 in territorial indemnities, the equivalent of over $8,500,000 today.

Stadium leases are tricky, too. I can dive more into that another time in a current event, but for history's sake, just acknowledge that the club owners had to make franchise trades to get control of property out west. Riding out remaining leases can get expensive, but it is better to secure a new venue before the current one expires.

keeping a competitive spirit after keeping competitive balance

If you asked a Brooklyn Dodger fan, if you had a gun with only two bullets in it and were in a room with Hitler, Stalin and O’Malley, who would you shoot? The answer: O’Malley, twice!
— An apocryphal anecdote

The relocation from New York to California for both teams preserved the rivalry that developed, but the fans said to be nonexistent spoke out. Specifically, the Dodgers fans grew strong feelings of dislike for then-Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley. Fans saw the move happening just because he wanted to buy new land to build a new stadium and because he heard owners were looking for a franchise to go to Los Angeles, but the move was much more complex as illustrated in the above section. Once "competitive balance" or some idea of it was maintained, it made sense to shift two teams with a rivalry in hopes that the rivalry could survive and thrive in the Pacific. After all, New York still had its Yankees.

connecting present day to history

From 1880 to 1887, a little professional baseball team called the New York Metropolitans played in Brooklyn and Hoboken, New Jersey. It makes sense then that when the Giants and Dodgers left New York for The Sunshine State, the franchise and fans selected "Mets" as the club's nickname to hint at the continuum of New York baseball from the 19th century onward. Had the Dodgers and Giants never relocated, the Mets may not have been resurrected and, therefore, may never have the chance to make history this season!