Demystifying the MLB Constitution (Part 1)

The first of a two-part series on the Major League Baseball Constitution. The roles of the Commissioner and the Executive Council will be covered in this installment. Part II will cover Major League Meetings, Arbitration, the Major League Central Fund, Clubs and Territories, and will be followed up with commentary and analysis on the document as a whole.

When I first started my document archive, there were some key documents that seemed natural to search for and collect.

Collective Bargaining Agreements? Check. Legal Rulings? Better get Flood v. Kuhn, Gardella v. Chandler and Toolson v. Yankees.

The more I added the more I thought of others that would round out the collection. What happens is you begin setting the bar a little higher each time. That leads to those places where the mountain air starts to get just a tad bit thin.

Exhibit 1s? That may be too difficult at the moment. The thousands of pages that make up both Celler Hearings? Hey, I might just be able to pull that off one day. The MLB Television Contract? Get real. The MLB Constitution?… Hmmmm….

The MLB Constitution is a bit of a mystery. It’s not circulated, and is actually part of a larger document entitled, The Official Professional Baseball Rules Book.

I shelved the notion of obtaining it. Then a gift arrived in the mail.

When I opened the package, the contents revealed the document I had mulled over for research purposes. It is shorter than one might think; all of 23 pages. Within it, however, are the rules, regulations and protocols that are used at the highest level of Major League Baseball.

Here’s what is inside …

The Commissioner

After the brief opening Article explaining that the current version of the Constitution will expire at the end of 2006, the document details what it is that the Commissioner of Baseball is charged with doing. Call it, at least for the time being, Bud Selig’s job description.

Article II immediately states that, “The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball is an unincorporated association also doing business Major League Baseball and has its members the Major League Clubs.” It then goes on to outline the functions of the Commissioner. Within those functions outlined is the ability for the commissioner to “act in the best interests of the national game of Baseball” (Article II sec. 2(b)). It goes on to clarify that the Commissioner, “makes decisions, regarding on-field discipline, playing rule interpretations, game protests and any other matter within the responsibility of the League Presidents prior to 2000.”

Section 3 outlines how the Commissioner’s responsibilities in regards to “conduct by Major League Clubs, owners, officers, employees or players that is deemed by the Commissioner to not be in the best interests of Baseball.” It then goes on to outline the punitive actions that the Commissioner can make. Call this, the “Kenny Rogers” provision. The punitive damages can be as little as, “a reprimand”. It can be, however, for more stringent. Here are some examples:

  • Suspension or removal of any owner, officer, or employee of a Major League Club;
  • Temporary or permanent ineligibility of a player;
  • A fine, not to exceed $2,000,000 in the case of a Major League Club, not to exceed $500,000 in the case of an owner, officer or employee, and not to exceed $5,000 in the case of a player.

It details other punitive action including, but not limited to the denial or transfer of player selection rights provided by Major League Rules 4 and 5, and, in a key provision, “other actions as the Commissioner may deem appropriate.”

As far as the integrity of the game, as it relates to the steroid issue that has been a looming factor, the section on the Commissioner continues in Section 4 by saying, “that nothing in Section 4 shall limit the Commissioner’s authority to act on any matters that involves the integrity of, or public confidence in, the national game of Baseball.”

Moving further, the system is outlined on how long the position of Commissioner can be held, and what the voting procedure is.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.
  • The election of the Commissioner has to occur at a Meeting of the Clubs and affirmed by no not less than three-quarters of all the Major League Clubs.
  • The Commissioner shall hold the office for a minimum of three years or for such longer term as shall be established by the Major League Clubs at the time of the Commissioner’s election.
  • The Commissioner shall be eligible to succeed himself or herself by written ballot, and to re-elect it must be by a majority.
  • If the Commissioner is incapacitated, as determined by a majority of the Executive Council, all the powers of the Commissioner are executed by the Executive Council.
  • In the case of incapacity, or vacancy of the Commissioner’s position, a vote of not less than three-quarters of the Major League Clubs can vote to establish a Commissioner Pro Tem to serve for a period of less than three years. This pro tempore Commissioner holds all the powers and duties that are conferred upon the Commissioner pursuant to the MLB Constitution.

Breaking this down, there are examples of these in practice. Certainly the final bullet point in this list has been seen in the past, with examples being Kuhn and Selig. While this is what is listed as the duties of the Commissioner, it could be argued that there is evidence that some of the rules within this “job description” have been broken in the past. Certainly, the roles of the Commissioner are not wholly independent. In practice, the Commissioner serves at the behest of the owners. If the owners don’t like the direction that the Commissioner is taking, they simply force him out. This has occurred in virtually every instance, with Landis and Giamatti the exceptions.

The Executive Council

The Executive Council is the main sounding-board for the Commissioner. As outlined in the section above, in the event of incapacitation, the Executive Council fills the role of the Commissioner until that vacancy is filled permanently, or by a Commissioner pro tempore.

Article III (sec.1) of the MLB Constitution outlines the roles and responsibilities of this most important of Councils within MLB.

The makeup of the Council is defined in this manner:

  • The Major League Executive Council is comprised of the Commissioner and eight Club members, four from each League.
  • The Club members are appointed by the Commissioner, and are ratified by a majority of the Clubs via vote.
  • Club members serve for a four-year team, with one member from each League expiring annually.
  • The Commissioner can designate and substitute an alternate to serve at any meeting of the Council in the absence of any member of the Council.
  • The Commissioner and five members constitutes a quorum at all meetings.
  • Each member of the Council has one vote.

As mentioned, the Executive Council is the key sounding-board for the Commissioner, and as such their duty is to “corporate, advise and confer with the Commissioner and other offices, agencies and individuals in an effort to perpetuate Baseball as the national game of America.”

The Council also monitors and advises on the “rules and regulations between the players and the Clubs and between Clubs. And any and all meters concerning players’ contacts or regulations.”

The following are some of the key duties of the Executive Council:

  • In between Major League Meetings, the Council exercises full power and authority over all other matters pertaining to the Major League clubs, not within the jurisdiction granted to the Commissioner.
  • To submit “recommendations as to persons to be considered for election as Commissioner whenever a vacancy may exist in the office.”
  • The Commissioner is the permanent Chairman of the Executive Council.
  • The members of the Council receive no compensation or reimbursement of expenses for their services as members.
  • The Executive Council holds regular meetings at least bimonthly each calendar year. Other meetings of the Council can be conducted at the request of the Commissioner, or by a majority of the Major League Clubs.

As for the membership, at this time, the members are not listed within the press. The newest additions added in January of this year were Red Sox principle owner, John Henry, as well as San Diego Padres principal owner and chairman John Moores. Those who were dropped were not announced.

Conclusion of Part I

I mentioned that the MLB Constitution was a bit of a mysterious document. It is meant to be as such. As this article details, this governing document of MLB is designated as the main document that Major League Baseball uses internally to conduct business. To put this in perspective, the document has been around for some time. Its creation was a direct impact of the Black Sox scandal. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was elected to office on November 12, 1920. The MLB Constitution was originally adopted as the Major League Agreement on January 12, 1921.

The Lords needed a roadmap and a clear set of marching orders for the new position of Commissioner. How the document is enforced, and whether it is adhered to completely will be part of the next installment in this two-part series published next Monday.

Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for freelance and looks forward to your comments.

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