Performance-enhancing drugs and gambling are considered big no-nos in the world of Major League Baseball. The latter is punishable by lifetime banishment while the former is punishable based on the type of drug and the number of times the offense has occurred. The question that matters now: How will the MLB punish…hacking?
The F.B.I. and Justice Department prosecutors are investigating St. Louis Cardinals’ front-office officials (none of which have been named) to determine whether or not they hacked into the network of the Houston Astros, a rival team of the Cardinals from the last two decades.
According to the New York Times, investigators from both the F.B.I. and the Justice Department found out that the Cardinals hacked into the Astros’ network, gaining access to information including scouting reports, statistics, player/trade discussions, and other proprietary information.
In 2013, Cardinals’ front-office officials allegedly hacked into Ground Control, the Houston Astros’ private database that contained all of the information listed, by examining a list of passwords used by current Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and other Astros officials that previously worked for the Cardinals. Luhnow himself was the Cardinals general manager from 2003-2011.
According to law enforcement officials, the hacking was carried out by Cardinals’ front-office officials who intended to destroy the work of Luhnow.
Luhnow had created a similar database called Redbird when he worked for the Cardinals. The accused Cardinals’ front-office officials thought Luhnow stole their idea and proprietary baseball information when he began working for the Astros.
Leaked information from Ground Control was anonymously posted on the Internet, according to an article from Deadspin.
The Cardinals, Astros, and the MLB have issued statements Tuesday stating they have fully cooperated with the federal investigation, which is close to conclusion according to ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson.
Both the Cardinals and the MLB have been issued subpoenas but no charges have been filed against the officials involved.
What This Means for the Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals are one of MLB’s winningest franchises ever, having captured two World Series championships and four divisional championships within the last decade alone. Similarly to the NFL’s New England Patriots, the Cardinals name and reputation will probably be associated with cheating from this day forward. No one knows for how long they have been cheating so MLB fans are going to start making up their own assumptions regardless of accuracy, just as NFL fans have done to the Patriots.
What This Means for the MLB (Organization/Fans)
Hacking in sports is a bizarre concept in of itself. When we think of hacking, we think of personal data (usually financial) being accessed. That is what I thought when I first heard this story, but hacking into a database to access scouting reports and trade discussions just goes to show the obsession that sports teams have with winning and the obsession that winning franchises have to continue winning.
Like it or not, we sports fans are partly to blame because just as easily as we can support (financially, emotionally, and even physically) teams that win, we just as easily can stop supporting them when they lose. The goal at the end of the day for the sports industry, like any other industry, is to make money and the easiest way to accomplish that is to win.
However, winning to many sports teams is the abbreviation for winning at any cost. As such, leagues that run these teams are left with the decision of how to punish those teams that go beyond legal boundaries to win. That is what the MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred will have to decide at the conclusion of this investigation.
The decision that Manfred will have to make is without a doubt a difficult one. If he hands down a slap-of-the-wrist punishment like a fine/takeaway of some draft picks to the Cardinals organization, it will be implied that hacking isn’t that big of a deal even if it is under federal investigation. If he suspends the suspected officials for an extended period of time, it will be implied that hacking is on par with players taking PEDs. If he permanently bans them, it will be implied that this cheating is just as bad as Pete Rose’s gambling even though this kind of cheating should be considered worse.
I can’t imagine having to make that decision. Luckily, I’m not a commissioner having to actually make that decision but an aspiring sportswriter who only has to cover it.