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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2017 — No. 19: The Cardinals are punished for the hacking scandal

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We’re a few short days away from 2018 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2017. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

In 2014, someone hacked into the Houston Astros’ “Ground Control” database. That was the club’s internal communication and evaluation system containing virtually all of the teams’ scouting, transaction and analytical intelligence. Among the stolen data — which was subsequently posted online — were internal discussions about trades and signings, the sort of which no team wants public. Due to the illegal acts of the hacker, however, it all came out.

In 2015 it was revealed the hack was perpetrated by St. Louis Cardinals scouting director, Chris Correa. It wasn’t a complex, “Mr. Robot”-style affair. He had simply guessed the password of Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow, a former Cardinals employee. Correa claimed to have been motivated by fears that Luhnow himself had accessed proprietary Cardinals information and that he was just checking to see if that was the case but, uh, no, breaking into someone’s house to see if they had broken in to yours is not a defense to breaking and entering. Correa was in deep trouble and, in addition to being fired by the Cardinals, wound up with a nearly four-year prison sentence.

In January Major League Baseball finally got around to punishing the Cardinals as an organization for the acts of its employee: they were fined $2 million and were forced to surrender two draft picks to the Astros. Those surrendered were the Cards’ two highest in 2017: a second round pick, which was the 56th overall and a Compensation Round B pick, which was the 75th overall. The Astros selected righty Corbin Martin with the former pick and second baseman J.J. Matijevic with the latter. If either of them turn in to anything, the Astros can thank Correa I suppose. For his part Correa was also placed on the permanently ineligible list, but I’m guessing that (a) he had more pressing matters to worry about from his prison cell; and (b) his future in baseball wasn’t all that bright regardless of the ban.

Many people questioned whether this was sufficient punishment for the Cardinals. It was a fair question.

The money, in the grand scheme of things, was not much for a major league baseball team. That’s less than the Cardinals paid reliever Seung-hwan Oh in 2017. The draft picks were more costly, though not substantially so. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter earlier in January, the Cards spent aggressively in the international market in the previous year, inspired in part to compensate for the anticipated loss of draft picks. No one wants to lose picks, but the Cardinals had a year and a half or so to minimize the impact of the punishment.

Others argued that the punishment was too severe due to Commissioner Manfred’s findings that only Correa was responsible for the hack, that it was not directed by anyone higher up the chain than him and that, as a result, the Cards’ liability was only vicarious. That’s a fair counterargument. Absent any credible evidence that Correa was acting in concert with anyone — and he had a lot of incentive at his criminal trial to claim that he was not acting alone yet failed to do so — one struggles to imagine how the Cardinals could’ve prevented all of this.

One of the purposes of discipline is punishment for punishment’s sake, but another important purpose of punishment is deterrence. And, to be sure, Major League Baseball has a strong interest in preventing any other team or team employee from engaging in the sort of espionage Correa did. To that, end, though, it’s fair to say that the long prison sentence given Correa in this incident is a far greater deterrent to such acts being committed in the future than anything MLB could do to the St. Louis Cardinals. As such, in the end, this probably worked out the best way it could’ve.

Now, if you really want to see some hardcore discipline of a major league front office check back later in our countdown and read about how the Atlanta Braves told everyone to hold their beer.

How long do you stay a fan of a team that left town?

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File this under “not a really deep thought, but there isn’t much going on this morning, so why not?”

I was catching up with the latest, and final, season of “The Americans” over the weekend. I will give no spoilers and ask that you do the same, but I want to talk about something that came up in the second episode.

The episode takes place in October 1987 and a character is listening to a Twins playoff game on the radio. He later talks about baseball and the Twins with some other characters. The context is not important, but the guy — probably in his mid-late 40s, living in the Washington D.C. area — makes a point to say that he has been a Twins fan since the beginning, and then says he was, in fact, a fan of the franchise back when they were still the Washington Senators.

In case you are unaware, the original Washington Senators moved to Minnesota following the 1960 season and became the Twins. At the same time an expansion team, also called the Senators, was placed in D.C. to replace them. That franchise would stay in D.C. for 11 seasons before moving to Texas in 1972 to become the Rangers.

In light if that, am I the only one who has a hard time buying that such a man actually existed? How would the character, who was a kid when the original Senators moved, be a Twins fan some 26 years later?

There were relatively few televised baseball games back then. Just a game of the week and some out of town coverage of local teams. There was obviously no internet. Outside of the 1965 World Series, it’d be a shock if more than a couple of Twins games were broadcast to the D.C. area during the rest of the guy’s childhood. Maybe he kept up with the Senators players like Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison via box scores, baseball cards and The Sporting News, but I couldn’t imagine a D.C. guy raised on the Senators keeping up with the Twins through the 1970s and 1980s. Would he not become a new Senators fan or, eventually, a Rangers fan? Maybe, like so many people on the D.C. area, he picked up the Orioles as his team due to their 1960s-70s dominance? Any number of things could happen, but I’m struggling to imagine the existence of a Senators guy who becomes a hardcore Twins fans up to and including 1987.

All of that got me thinking about other relocated teams.

The Dodgers are the most famous example, of course, with the narrative being that Dodgers fans in Brooklyn felt betrayed by Walter O’Malley and thus turned their back on the club, later adopting the Mets as their rooting interest. The betrayal narrative is less pronounced with the Giants, but that’s the same general story with them too. I mean, there’s a reason the Mets picked orange and blue as their colors. They wanted to, and largely did, co-opt the old NL New York fans.

I’m sure a lot more Dodgers and Giants fans continued to follow their teams in California than would let on, given that many of the same players starred out there in the ensuing years, but that likely died out as those players retired. Bob Aspromonte was the last Brooklyn Dodger to play in the bigs, retiring after the 1971 season. Willie Mays played through 1973. I assume NL fans in New York kept some nice thoughts for them — particularly because the Mets picked both of them up for the tail end of their careers — but I can’t see those guys rooting for, say, Steve Garvey and John Montefusco in 1979.

Others:

  • There likely aren’t many St. Louis Browns fans left — they last played in Missouri 65 years ago — but even if the ones they had in 1953 felt like rooting for the Cardinals was impossible, I bet most of their kids and grandkids became Cards fans;
  • The A’s fans in Philly — and later Kansas City — probably have a similar story. I mean, there’s a reason that franchise skipped town twice, so to expect undying love over the decades, with the Phillies and Royals around, is a bit much. The Philadelphia A’s glory years were like 90s years ago now anyway, and all of those fans are dead. The A’s modern glory years have all come in Oakland. No one in Philadelphia or Kansas City is looking to the California with an aching in their heart;
  • I could imagine someone’s grandfather in Milwaukee still thinking that the Braves are his team, but not many other people. The Braves won a World Series and two pennants in Milwaukee, but that was an awful long time ago and they moved to Atlanta before the A’s moved to Oakland. Don’t even get me started about Boston Braves fans. They all have to either be dead or have long since moved on. Following a team to a new city is a big ask, but following them to two new cities over 66 years seems pathological. UPDATE: OK, there are some pathological people out there.
  • I have some Nationals fan friends and they tell me that there is a small, weird contingent of Expos fans who root for Washington now. I get that since it wasn’t terribly long ago, but was Brad Wilkerson really a good enough reason to carry a torch? I’d like to talk to some of those people and ask them about their value system;
  • The only other team to move was the Seattle Pilots. They played one season in Seattle and no one would remember that if it wasn’t for Jim Bouton’s book, “Ball Four.” If you find someone claiming to be a Pilots fan in Seattle, you’ve found yourself a hipster peddling revisionist b.s.

Anyway, that’s a lot of words wasted on a couple of lines from a TV show, but as always, your thoughts are appreciated.