St. Louis Cardinals Investigated for Hacking Into Houston Astros’ Network

Wednesday, June 17, 2015
(photo: Getty; photo illustration: Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Stealing signs is as old as baseball. Catchers change their signs when opposing runners are on second base so they can’t tip their teammate to what kind of pitch is coming. When the Chicago White Sox played in old Comiskey Park, it was said they had someone there with binoculars to steal signs. But the St. Louis Cardinals have taken that practice into the Internet age.


The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether the Cardinals hacked into the computer system of the Houston Astros. The Astros’ system contains data on players (those controlled by the Astros as well as players outside the team), discussion of proposed trades and other proprietary information. When it became clear last year that the Astros’ system had been compromised, FBI agents found that it had been done from a house that had been occupied by Cardinals team employees.


The Astros’ system, known as Ground Control, was set up at the request of Houston General Manager Jeff Luhnow, who previously worked for the Cardinals. Investigators suspect that, to access the Astros system, Cardinals officials used information from the computer system that Luhnow used when he was with the Cardinals.


According to The New York Times, investigators believe the infiltration occurred to ensure that Luhnow hadn’t taken proprietary information with him when he left St. Louis for the Astros, and because some Cardinals officials sought revenge on the successful Luhnow, who was viewed as a polarizing figure during his time with the Cardinals.


The Astros under Luhnow have gone from nearly the cellar of the American League’s West Division last season to first place now.


If suspicions are proven correct, the hacking attack would represent “the first known case of corporate espionage in which a professional sports team hacked the network of another team,” according to the Times’ Michael Schmidt.


Both the Cardinals and Major League Baseball have been issued subpoenas for their email correspondence. Neither organization, nor the Astros, have offered any substantive comments about the matter.


“Sports have been corrupted — so much money and so much pressure,” Don Beck, director of the National Values Center, told the Houston Chronicle. “It’s industrial espionage, like when Coca-Cola would steal from Pepsi. … It’s a sad state of affairs in baseball. That’s America’s pastime. It goes across the grain of our ethical system.”


The hacking allegations are “way, way beyond anything we’ve seen in baseball before. Maybe beyond anything we’ve seen in professional sports,” wrote Craig Calcaterra at NBC Sports. “If this…was something people in Cardinals management knew about, it could be one of the biggest scandals baseball has ever seen.”


The irony is that the Cardinals have cultivated a reputation of being a team that does things the right way, known as “The Cardinal Way.” As might be expected, the Cardinals are taking a hit on social media, with the team being compared to the New England Patriots football team, which was found to be deflating footballs to make them easier for their quarterback to throw.


Team officials might not find the irony amusing when they learn that doing things “The Cardinal Way” can get you time in federal prison.

-Steve Straehley, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Cardinals Face FBI Inquiry in Hacking of Astros’ Network (by Michael S. Schmidt, New York Times)

Cardinals Being Investigated For Hacking Astros’ Computer System (by David Barron and Evan Drellich, Houston Chronicle)

The FBI Is Investigating the Cardinals for Hacking Into the Astros’ Computer System (by Craig Calcaterra, NBC Sports)

Minor League Baseball Players Sue Major League Baseball over Low Pay (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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