A special House panel on professional sports concluded yesterday that baseball does not deserve its unique antitrust immunity, but decided against recommending the protection be lifted until further studies are made.
The House Select Committee on Professional Sports, which conducted an extensive inquiry into the four major sports last summer, also voted to ask Congress to continue the panel for the next session.
Committee members said if the panel is reappointed as expected, they want to get hard economic data from sports interests and to analyze the impact of recent court and labor decisions before sending their proposals to congressional committees for action.
It also is conceivable that the successor sports panel may find it desirable to extend some limited form of antitrust immunity to football, basketball and hockey.
In New York, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn said he was pleased that the Committee had decided to study the matter more and pledged to cooperate in the additional studies.
Baseball's unique immunity was established in 1922 by the U. S. Supreme Court and subsequently upheld in other decisions by the high court. The Court has said that if the immunity were to be abolished, Congress - and not the Court - would have to do it.
Baseball officials contend that the game's internal structure - the nongame operation of the sport - would become chaotic and subject to the kind of lengthy litigation now facing the other major sports if the immunity were removed.
The Committee's decision against immediate action came as a surprise, since most of the 13 members indicated during the hearings that they favored such action.
Rep. B.F. Sisk (D-Calif.), Committee chairman, denied that the decision to defer a recommendation on the immunity issue was linked to baseball's latest promise to restore the game to Washington.
Sisk and Rep. Frank Horton (R-N.Y.), Committee vice chairman, have worked to bring the game back here since the Senators moved in 1971. The Committee was formed in May after the National League failed to expand into Washington, and officially expired yesterday at noon.
At their annual winter meeting last month, baseball executives came up with another plan that was a rehash of previously rejected proposals to have the Baltimore Orioles play some games here.
In addition, the NL suspended for one year its unanimous consent requirement for anything - including expansion - that would expedite baseball's return to the Capital. The NL even said it would take in an American League club wanting to move here and create two 13-team leagues with limited interleague play.
The Committee had been scheduled to vote on the immunity issue on the day after the baseball convention broke up, but postponed it when some members reportedly had insufficient time to digest the 225-page staff report.
Now the Committee, if reappointed, would have two years to study the matter while the NL has a year to try to find a solution for the "Washington problem."
Disavowing any connection, Sisk said yesterday that the Committee's work is totally separate from past efforts to get another D.C. franchise and "was not influenced by anything (baseball officials) did in Los Angeles" last month.
The lengthy staff report, accepted unanimously yesterday by the eight members present, covers a host of proposals relating to the four sports on such items as immigration, violence, safety, gambling and labor relations.
On baseball's immunity, which got the most public attention, the staff wrote, in part:
"Based on the information available to it, the Committee has concluded that adequate justification does not exist for baseball's special exemption from the antitrust laws and that its exemption should be removed in the context of overall sports antitrust reform."
The Committee also recommended that Antiblackout legislation, which expired in the Congressional session ending yesterday, should be renewed by the 95th Congress, which convenes today.