Employees of the St. Louis Cardinals improperly accessed a database created by the Houston Astros. This happened at least twice, at some point in 2013 and again in March 2014. It’s possible it occurred more than twice. Some of the material that was stolen from this database was posted to an Internet forum. The website Deadspin was alerted to these documents and posted the information for public consumption. At some point in time, the Astros informed Major League Baseball of the data breach. MLB, fearing that an unknown party had compromised more than just the Astros network, contacted the FBI.
This is known as corporate espionage. It’s an act generally frowned upon by the U.S. justice system. It’s also a criminal act. The type of criminal act over which people get sent to prison. It’s way more serious, and does way more to harm the integrity of baseball or sports, than Tom Brady’s underinflated balls, and it’s definitely more important than a supposed performance-enhancing-drugs epidemic that MLB tried to destroy itself with.
So that’s how we get to where we are today, with the FBI and Justice Department serving subpoenas on the Cardinals and MLB in search of the identities of the hackers (I know there’s an argument as to whether this is an actual hack, but I’ve got a friend who’s in IT, and he assures me it’s a hack so I’m sticking with hack). One instance of the intrusion into the Astros network has been traced back to a house in Jupiter, Florida, that is owned by the Cardinals. It’s still not known who with the Cardinals trespassed into the Astros database, but it’s only a matter of time before the Cardinals throw a couple of flunkies under the bus, and it’s also probably just a matter of time until the FBI figures out who actually committed the illegal acts.
Let’s not joke here. No matter what excuses and justifications the Cardinals and the St. Louis fanbase offer up, what occurred was an illegal act. It was an illegal intrusion into a competitor’s proprietary computer network, which is a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). There is prison time associated with violations of the CFAA, and it’s more than likely that the Feds will try to flip whatever flunky the Cards name as the hacker and try to get that person to rat out higher-ups who either ordered the intrusions or benefited from the intrusions.
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The initial New York Times story stated that Cardinals employees used a master set of passwords used by Astros GM Jeff Luhnow when he was the Cardinals assistant GM to gain access to the Astros database — Luhnow strongly denied this accusation to Sports Illustrated yesterday. And there have been reports that this illegal intrusion into the Astros database was done because the Cardinals feared that Luhnow had used St. Louis’s proprietary information for the creation of the Astros system — another charge also strongly denied yesterday by Luhnow.
For what it’s worth, the FBI has offered up no official explanation for the assault on the Astros computer system. There is also speculation that it was done by vengeful St. Louis front office staff who hoped to create havoc. And there are other stories that it was done because Luhnow was hated by the Cardinals and embarrassing him and bringing ridicule to him by any means necessary was seen as a good thing — hence making Deadspin aware of the data within days of that glowing Sports Illustrated article from last year.
Let’s get some of the stupid out of the way right now. It matters not how the Cardinals accessed the Astros database: It was still entry into a place the Cardinals had no business being, and to which the team and its officials had not been invited. That makes it an illegal intrusion. Taking material from the Astros and posting it on an Internet board for public consumption is the theft and exposure of trade secrets, which is an also an illegal act. It doesn’t matter if Luhnow used the same passwords with both teams; the Cardinals still had no right to be there. And if the Cardinals were really, really, really concerned that Luhnow took proprietary information and used it for the Astros — well, believe it or not, there are ways you can work within the legal system to deal with such a problem.
This may not have been a very sophisticated hack, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that it was an illegal act. What matters is that there might be jail time for those involved. What matters is that the so-called Cardinals way of doing the right thing and still winning is the crap everybody outside of St. Louis knew it to be. And what really matters is just how MLB responds because the Astros are forbidden by MLB rules from suing the Cardinals for corporate espionage. Thus it’s up to Commissioner Rob Manfred to figure out the appropriate punishment — perhaps stripping away the Cards' 2001 NL Central Co-Champion banner or banning them from post-season play. Anything that recognizes the Cardinals as the worst kind of cheaters.