Craig Calcaterra

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The Cardinals hacking scandal is a major early test for Rob Manfred

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The Deflategate/St. Louis Cardinals hacking scandal comps are fun, so let’s add another fun wrinkle to all of that. By, say, comparing Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt to Patriots owner Robert Kraft and talking about the challenges their clubs’ alleged perfidies present to Rob Manfred to Roger Goodell, respectively.

DeWitt, like Kraft, is one of the most influential owners in the game. And, like Kraft vis-a-via Goodell, he was one of Rob Manfred’s strongest supporters. Before Deflategate, Kraft had gone to great lengths to support Goodell in any number of scandals and scrapes. For his part, DeWitt led the committee which selected the new commissioner and no doubt helped beat back the challenge to Manfred’s candidacy from Tom Werner. A challenge which was backed by an equally strong owner in the White Sox’ Jerry Reinsdorf. He is also one of only two holdovers from Bud Selig’s former executive council to serve on Manfred’s. His power and insight are clearly respected.

And now, like Goodell had to do with Kraft, Manfred will have to investigate and possibly penalize the club owned by the guy who forms a big part of his base of power. Maybe not soon — he can wait out the federal investigation for a while — but eventually.

New commissioners, especially ones who follow legends, often have some sort of early test of their authority. Adam Silver had the Donald Sterling stuff. Goodell had Spygate — also involving Kraft’s club — and a number of personal conduct policy violations to deal with, all of which represented either new territory for the commissioner or new levels of punishment for old territory. Some tests like Silver’s are, politically speaking, pretty easy. Others are tougher.

Manfred’s, if the allegations are borne out, could be extraordinarily tough. Partially because of the unique and serious nature of the allegations (we’re really in uncharted waters here and people could go to jail over this). But also because, recently, there has been at least some indication that Manfred is still mindful and possibly unsure of his support among the owners.

When Josh Hamilton’s relapse and disciplinary proceedings were leaked in violation of Major League Baseball’s rules, Manfred did nothing to investigate the Angels, who were the clear suspects behind the leak. Indeed, they were the only credible suspects. Manfred said it was because it was hard to prove such things. Others suggested privately that it was because Moreno was one of Manfred’s opponents in the search for a commissioner and that antagonizing Moreno was nothing he was interested in doing a couple of months into his tenure.

Now, depending on how this all shakes out, Manfred may have to lay down the law against a team owned by one of baseball’s most powerful men. And one of the men to whom Manfred owes quite a bit. It’ll be a tough situation for him, one presumes. Especially because so many people inside the game will be watching it closely.

Nori Aoki passes Giancarlo Stanton in the All-Star vote because of course he does

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The latest N.L. voting update from the 2015 Nihilist All-Star Game.

If the Cardinals are so good at hacking, why did Buster Posey just pass Yadier Molina in the voting? And given that former Royal Nori Aoki has passed Giancarlo Stanton in the thing, maybe we should be looking at either Royals fans for hacking or, perhaps, Giants fans.

Anyway, here are the results. If you need me I’ll be laughing myself to death reading tweets from Cardinals fans explaining away the investigation of their alleged corporate espionage as a function of everyone else’s jealousy about how great and successful they are.

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Where does The Best Hack in Baseball rank on the all-time scandal list?

Kennesaw Landis
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What big story of a breaking scandal is complete without a walk down memory lane? Especially one that may alter the power rankings for all-time scandals!

Here, just as what I am going to call The Best Hack in Baseball takes root, is how I figure the all-time baseball scandals list shapes up:

  • The Black Sox Scandal

The granddaddy of them all, of course. There were many gambling/game-fixing scandals in baseball’s first half century, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. You know the story by now: the 1919 Chicago White Sox went in with gamblers to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. They were eventually caught and eight of them banned for life, including Shoeless Joe Jackson. As a result, baseball’s owners created the job of Commissioner of Baseball, which changed the shape of MLB as an organization over the past 100 years.

  • Collusion in the 1980s

Younger people may not be as familiar with this one as us old-timers are, but it was a big deal with major on-the-field impacts. Here, led by then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth and eagerly carried out by owners like Bud Selig and Jerry Reinsdorf, MLB clubs conspired to not sign other team’s former players in free agency as a means of suppressing salaries following the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons. Big names like Jack Morris, Tim Raines and Andre Dawson among many, many others could not find jobs because of the conspiracy and were forced to sign for fractions of their market value. Eventually the owners were busted and had to pay hundreds of millions of dollar in penalties.

This one tops steroids in my mind simply because it involved an actual top-down criminal conspiracy as opposed to a bunch of wildcatters cheating. And it also had major historical implications inasmuch as the owners agreed to two rounds of expansion — in 1993 and 1998 — as a means of raising the money to pay the ballplayers the money they owed them. If not for collusion, the Rockies, Marlins, Rays and Diamondbacks wouldn’t exist.

  • The Various PED Scandals

Maybe we could break these out into many separate scandals — Biogenesis, BALCO, etc. — but they’re really all of a piece and I don’t think we even have a full and proper perspective on them even now. In scope it was definitely one of the bigger ones ever, insofar as the number of players involved and the amount of conversation it generated. And it gets held up as acutely infamous by those who take issue with hallowed home run records being broken by drug users. But, in actual, technical baseball impact it’s not really bigger than the changes between, say, the deadball era and the 1920s-30s or the sharp pitchers era of the 1960s-70s. It was goosed by artificial means, yes, but such variations have happened in the past. I imagine I’m the only baseball writer on the planet who doesn’t put this directly beneath the Black Sox Scandal, but I’m also one of the few writers who doesn’t think the worst part of the PED scandals was that one of my heroes from the 1950s-70s had a record surpassed.

  • Best Hack in Baseball

This is obviously a preliminary ranking, given that we’ve only known about it for two hours. Many things could change it, of course. As I argued before, I think that even if it turns out to only be a single no-goodnick involved, it will still likely involve a federal prosecution and will take the lid off of some unseemly internal baseball business. That would make it more like the Cocaine Scandal and Steinbrenner stuff below. If it goes farther than that — if, however unlikely and far-fetched it seems, the Cardinals, as an organization actually sanctioned this — it could be the biggest thing since the Black Sox Scandal.

  • Pete Rose Betting Scandal

Smaller than the Black Sox as it only involved one guy, but he is a really famous guy, so it gets more juice here than just some random rules violation.

  • The Pittsburgh Cocaine Scandal

While baseball has tended to be more progressive on matters of race than the rest of society, it has tended to lag the popular culture by a good 5-10 years when it comes to styles and fads and things. Long hair and beards hit baseball in the 70s, not the 60s. Postmodern architecture with odd, retro-throwbacks hit the world in the 1980s, it hit baseball in the 1990s. So too with drugs, as most of society got on the cocaine train in the 1970s and were almost over it by the mid-80s, while baseball jumped in with both feet, at least publicly, in 1985. While this scandal centered on Pittsburgh — a criminal trial there with baseball players as prime witnesses ensured that — coke use was rampant among players during the Reagan era. This likely harmed some careers and negatively impacted a lot of in-game performances, but ultimately I consider this to be less a baseball scandal than a personal tragedy for many if not most of the players involved. Especially including Rod Scurry, the Pirates reliever who lost his life due to his drug addiction.

  • George Steinbrenner’s various perfidies

People’s memory of “George Steinbrenner: criminal and lowlife” is almost gone, supplanted by “George Steinbrenner: Championship Owner” in the popular consciousness. But let us not forget that, not long after he took over the Yankees, he was convicted of making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign and suspended for two years. And that, in the late 80s, he was again suspended for hiring a private investigator to try to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield because Steinbrenner was mad that he had given Winfield such a big contract.

  • The Yankees wife-swap

Less scandal than lurid slice of early 1970s life, in 1973 Yankees pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich swapped wives. Actually, that’s not true. Their wives swapped them. The wives, kids and pets stayed put but Kekich and Peterson changed addresses. It caused a huge media storm and likely didn’t do much to help either of their careers. The swap worked for Peterson, as he married Susanne Kekich in 1974 and they’ve been together ever since. Kekich and the former Mrs. Peterson split up relatively quickly.

SPECIAL CASE: Segregation

I don’t consider this a “scandal” as such. Yes, it’s scandalous and downright reprehensible that black players were kept out of the game until 1947, but when I think of the word “scandal” I think it has to involve some sort of secret that was revealed or some sort of wrongdoing uncovered that shocked the consciousness of people. Heck, in 1947 no small number of people likely thought that allowing blacks to play baseball was the actual scandal. I don’t mean this as an apology for baseball of the segregation era. In fact, it was a far bigger crime with far more serious implications than anything else on this list. I’m merely saying that it wasn’t the same sort of offense that would get people talking like the things we think of as scandals today would. It is deserving of its own category of infamy, and placing it alongside these other things diminishes just how serious it was.

We could list a lot of other scandals. Reds owner Marge Schott being awful. John Rocker being awful. Mickey Mantle doing all sorts of awful things yet everyone just sort of tousling his hair and calling him a lovable scamp. Any number of players corking their bats or throwing spitballs. But eventually we get to mere matters of bad taste and cheating than anything which has that special, extra something that makes it a scandal. The Cardinals-Astros hack has it.

Now, we just sit back and see how bad it gets.

No matter how big the alleged Cardinals-Astros hack was, expect the feds to take it seriously

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In the end, if I were a betting man, I’d bet that one or two low-level Cardinals employees take the fall for whatever results from the FBI investigation into them hacking the Astros. And by “take the fall” I don’t mean that they’re made scapegoats. Given what we know thus far about the FBI investigation, it was not a sophisticated thing and may very well have been considered a lark or an impulsive stunt by someone who simply didn’t like Jeff Luhnow back when he was their boss. The odds of it being an organizational-wide conspiracy seem low.

But to diminish the scope of the alleged hacking of the Astros’ system is not to diminish its seriousness. Not from a legal perspective anyway. Because the infiltration of someone else’s computer system, no matter how easily and primitively it was done, is covered by a particularly pernicious federal law: the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”).

The CFAA is an old law as far as tech laws go. It was developed in 1984, back when Congress was just coming to grips with the fact that computers were the future and that hacking was a potentially serious deal. Of course, as Congress tends to do when it doesn’t fully understand something, it legislated broadly and somewhat sloppily. The CFAA and its many amendments and revisions — some wound up into the Patriot Act — are now vague enough to where it has been used to prosecute people for any computer-related crime. Once it was used in a case where a woman created a fake MySpace page to cyberbully a teenage girl, which resulted in the girl committing suicide. An awful act to be sure, but one which really didn’t fit neatly into the category of Computer Fraud given that no external system was improperly accessed. It’s use in that case showed just how malleable the law is and how eager prosecutors are to use it in a media-heavy case where, well, something must be done.

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More infamously, the CFAA was used to prosecute famous hacker Aaron Swartz. Swartz was arrested and charged under the CFAA for surreptitiously installing a computer in order to download academic journal articles from a company which normally charges for the privilege of using them. While his violation, in essence, was one in which terms of service were not followed, Swartz was charged with 11 violations of the CFAA and faced a $1 million fine, 35 years in prison, asset forfeiture, restitution, and supervised release. Ultimately his charges were in the process of being pleaded down, but Swartz killed himself when negotiations with the feds failed to progress.

The upshot: This may have been an impulsive or spiteful action, as opposed to some orchestrated espionage effort. It may have involved one person rather than five or 10 and may have been as simple as looking up old passwords rather than some sophisticated hackery. But, to the feds, it may be considered something highly felonious and may turn into something huge. Especially given that, unlike some CFAA cases, this one actually allegedly involved the fraudulent accessing of a computer network across state lines.

Perhaps federal investigators and prosecutors will show restraint in this instance. After all, knowing that the Astros may have wanted to trade for Ichiro Suzuki is not a big deal in the grand scheme. But when was the last time federal prosecutors showed restraint? Especially when baseball — which the Feds have always used in order to make an example — is involved.

Finally, recall that the reporter who broke this story is Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times. He’s a good reporter who broke many stories about federal steroids investigations. And he has spent more time on the national security beat in recent years. His sources tend not to be the sorts who are less-than-eager to go full-bore into federal violations.

Which is to say that someone, perhaps someone with the Cardinals, is in for a world of pain.

Breaking: The FBI is investigating the Cardinals for hacking into the Astros’ computer system

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You’ll recall that last year someone hacked into the Astros’ “Ground Control” database, which is the internal communication and evaluation system. Among the stolen data — which was subsequently posted online — were internal discussions about a possible trade for Giancarlo Stanton last year, the leadup to the Bud Norris trade and discussions between the Astros and Yankees in which the Yankees offered Ichiro Suzuki to Houston for cash. Not the sort of stuff a team wants public.

Now, according to an exclusive report in the New York Times, the FBI has a suspect. The Best Suspect in Baseball:

Investigators have uncovered evidence that Cardinals officials broke into a network of the Houston Astros that housed special databases the team had built, according to law enforcement officials . . . The officials did not say which employees were the focus of the investigation or whether the team’s highest-ranking officials were aware of the hacking or authorized it. The investigation is being led by the F.B.I.’s Houston field office and has progressed to the point that subpoenas have been served on the Cardinals and Major League Baseball for electronic correspondence.

The Times reports that the impetus for this was both (a) concern that former Cards executive Jeff Luhnow took proprietary information with him when he left for Houston to become the Astros’ GM; and (b) lingering resentment over Lunhow’s tenure with the Cardinals, where he was reported to have been a polarizing figure. It was not a sophisticated hack, the Times reports. Rather, Cards employees referred to a master password list Luhnow used when with St. Louis, which used a similar computer system.

Teams scout each other. Teams hire former members of other organizations. Intelligence is probably a pretty underreported part of what goes on inside baseball. But hacking someone else’s computer system is illegal and way, way beyond anything we’ve seen in baseball before. Maybe beyond anything we’ve seen in professional sports. As the Times report says, this is nothing short of corporate espionage for which people may be arrested and prosecuted.

If this was some rogue in the lower level of the analytics department it may be one relatively small thing. If this went higher than that and was something people in Cardinals management knew about, it could be one of the biggest scandals baseball has ever seen.

UPDATE: Major League Baseball has issued a statement:

“Major League Baseball has been aware of and has fully cooperated with the federal investigation into the illegal breach of the Astros’ baseball operations database.  Once the investigative process has been completed by federal law enforcement officials, we will evaluate the next steps and will make decisions promptly.”

source: Getty Images
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