The St. Louis Cardinals, a baseball team considered to be a model franchise, are under investigation by the FBI and the Department of Justice for hacking into the Houston Astros’ player development database.
Usually this is something seen by foreign governments trying to steal military secrets. This is the first time in professional sports a team has been under investigation for corporate espionage against another pro team.
There is no evidence so far that this hacking has improved the Cardinals' on the field performance.
One might ask why the Houston Astros were the target of a team with the best record in baseball that went to the playoffs in each of the last four seasons, winning the World Series in 2011.
The Astros on the other hand lost over 100 games in three of the last four years and have not had a winning season since 2008 although they are currently in first place in the American League West.
Before their relocation to the AL West in 2013, the Astros and Cardinals had been fierce division rivals in the National League Central from 1994 (when the Central divisions were created) to 2012.
Some have speculated that this hacking was largely a vendetta against statistical guru Jeff Luhnow, the Astros General Manager, who had been with the Cardinals for eight years before taking the Houston job in December of 2011.
Luhnow was a polarizing figure in the Cardinals organization, taking them from a largely scout driven, old-school organization, to one reliant on statistical analysis.
Supposedly the hackers had a master list of all the passwords used previously while Luhnlow and his colleagues were with the St. Louis.
With the Astros, Luhnow built an online database called “Ground Control”. The database provides stats, video, and easy communication with other front offices. While still with St. Louis, Luhnow created a very similar system called “Redbird”.
Around this time last year, some of the information the Astros had collected was dumped online by the hackers. This data dumping was later reported on by the website Deadspin and showed trade talks that Houston had with other teams. None of it is shocking or surprising, but having that information out there does not help a team as it conducts delicate player analysis.
The FBI was then put on the case, and found the network had been entered from a home shared by four or five Cardinals execs.
Despite some claims by fans and beat reporters of other teams, it has been made clear by the FBI that only the Astros were affected. St. Louis announced Wednesday that they will open their own investigation into the matter and their executives are innocent.
Spying isn’t exactly new to baseball, stealing signs has been part of the game for decades. This, though, is something far more drastic and devious.