Why Are Yankees Still Fighting Release Of Letter In DraftKings Lawsuit?

The team has doubled down on its claim that "public release would cause substantial harm"
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A lawsuit against Major League Baseball and DraftKings related to alleged “cheating” by the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox a couple of years ago appears to be a lost cause for the five daily fantasy sports players who filed it.

But it is the New York Yankees, for some reason, who keep battling to reverse a federal judge’s preliminary ruling to make public the contents of a letter from MLB President Rob Manfred to Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman.

In June, the Yankees contended that release of the letter would be “an embarrassment” — even though Manfred has said publicly that any sign-stealing issues regarding the Yankees were “minor.”

Last week, a Yankees filing in the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals claimed that the letter’s “public release would cause substantial harm to an innocent non-party, the Yankees.”

Adding more intrigue is that Yankees President Randy Levine — an attorney and former deputy mayor under New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani — last week filed a motion to join the case for the purpose of making the franchise’s case himself.

“It should be a really interesting argument,” Levine told The Athletic.

The Yankees have a strong defense

Fortunately for the Yankees, the lower-court ruling in the case seems to have provided plenty of ammunition to argue that the letter has nothing to do with the plaintiffs’ claims that they were defrauded because they participated in DFS baseball contests without being informed that some of the teams cheated.

“Because the contents of this document ultimately had no bearing on the district court’s disposition of Plaintiffs’ motion, there is no public interest to be served by its disclosure,” attorneys for the Yankees argued.

On the other hand, they added, release of the letter “would threaten to impair MLB’s ability to secure candid cooperation in its future confidential investigations.”

The letter — which was produced by MLB in the evidential discovery phase of the case — is not, the Yankees argue, “a judicial document” as has been previously ruled because “the substance of the full [document] was not significantly relied upon or at issue” in the case.

“Access to the Yankees Letter thus would not ‘materially assist the public in understanding the issues before the district court’ or ‘evaluating the fairness and integrity of the court’s proceedings.’

“And, critically, there can be no conceivable public interest in disclosure of a document that Plaintiffs have now effectively conceded had no legal relevance to their claims, as they withdrew their allegation that it was relied on by any Plaintiff and, consequently, barely mentioned it in their brief on appeal.

“Indeed, Plaintiffs’ allegations related to the Yankees Letter were frivolous from the start as no Plaintiff ever had a basis to allege in good faith that he was even aware of (let alone relied on) the press release [about the letter] in deciding to participate in DraftKings contests.”

A hint about the contents

A further claim by the Yankees’ attorneys may offer a hint regarding “embarrassment” over publication of the letter:

“Except for MLB’s limited public statement regarding the investigation outcome, MLB has not revealed any other information about the investigation, the cooperating witnesses, or the contents of the Yankees Letter to anyone outside of the Office of the Commissioner or the Yankees in the intervening three years.”

Cooperating witnesses? Hmm.

The vast majority of the Yankees’ 82-page filing last week addressed the apparent shakiness of the five DFS players claims.

“Plaintiffs have chosen to engage in the hobby of fantasy sports. They believe this gives them the right to bring a lawsuit when there are rule violations in real sports. It does not. The word ‘fantasy’ means something, and armchair quarterbacks — or in this case, armchair pitchers and hitters — have no legal entitlement to regulate the real thing.

“At least three other Courts of Appeal have recognized that fans have no actionable right to sue when they are disappointed by a sporting event.”

The Yankees attorneys claim that the plaintiffs “asserted a grab bag of misfit legal theories — fraud, negligence, unjust enrichment and violation of state consumer protection laws — against Major League Baseball, MLB Advanced Media, and two of MLB’s member clubs, based on the supposed impact that electronic sign stealing in real-life games had on the fantasy games organized by non-party DraftKings.”

DFS and the “game of skill” question

The plaintiffs in the appeal claim that DFS in this case no longer became a game of skill — as opposed to gambling — once electronic sign-stealing upended the apple cart.

More from the attorneys for the Yankees:

“Plaintiffs’ theory is wrong for several reasons, but the most fundamental is that the term ‘game of skill’ has a specific meaning under federal law that DraftKings contests indisputably meet.

“Plaintiffs’ theory is also irreconcilable with the fact that a major league player’s performance on the field, and thus his statistics, has never been a product only of his raw ability, but a combination of an infinite number of known and unknown contributing factors, including luck, matchups, injuries, weather, umpiring, and, regrettably, rule violations — and thus every fan who plays fantasy baseball knows that the players’ statistics reflect those variables and that their ‘skill’ in picking a fantasy team is subject to them.”

DraftKings and MLB’s relationship

Yet another argument by the Yankees against the DFS players:

“The foundation for all of these claims is the fundamentally flawed premise that because MLBAM has a business relationship with DraftKings, fantasy baseball participants have a legal right to compete in contests based on real-life player performance statistics unaffected by undisclosed violations of MLB’s on-field rules.

“Plaintiffs grossly overstate MLBAM’s relationship with DraftKings — the only conceivable connection between themselves and Defendants — by twisting a sponsorship and licensing arrangement into absurd allegations that Defendants ‘created’ and ‘controlled’ the DraftKings competitions in which Plaintiffs participated.

“As the district court recognized, however, those allegations are flatly contradicted by the actual terms of the contract on which Plaintiffs purport to base them.”

According to the Yankees, MLBAM “sold its equity interest [in DraftKings] in 2019.”

To top things off, there is “yet another fatal defect that went unaddressed by the district court,” that no plaintiffs claim that “they actually lost money on the DraftKings contests they were purportedly induced to play. This action thus should remain dismissed for this reason alone.”

So the ruling by the lower-court judge seems to pave the way for the Yankees to prevail and for the letter to remain unsealed.

As noted New York philosopher Jerry Seinfeld likes to say, “That’s a shame.”

Photo by Fabio Alcuni / Shutterstock.com

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