Craig Calcaterra

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A lawsuit with big baseball-on-TV implications goes to trial next week


Next week, a lawsuit captioned Garber v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball goes to trial. We’ve talked about it briefly in the past, but it’s an easy case to forget about given that it deals with antitrust and broadcast rights and stuff like that. It’s tremendously significant, however, and the fact that it has neither been settled nor dismissed before now means that the way baseball is broadcast could be radically altered in the very near future.

The short version of things is that a certified class of baseball fans is suing Major League Baseball, claiming that its broadcast policies — particularly broadcast territories and attendant blackout rules — illegally limit competition and consumer choice. Major League Baseball is arguing that such restrictions are, in the aggregate, better for consumers and ensure that more baseball games are broadcast.

You may scoff at baseball’s argument at first blush — how can restrictions lead to more of a product and/or a better product? — but it’s not ridiculous. If the restrictions were gone, perhaps the Yankees or the Red Sox become nationally broadcast teams? Perhaps a small market team, without a protected territory, decides it can’t make money broadcasting games, thus leading to a limited number of games for the fans of that team? Of course, that’s just Major League Baseball’s argument. All of us, as fans, can tell stories of the ridiculous and Kafkaesque nature of baseball’s blackouts and territorial restrictions which make watching the teams we want to see much harder and/or much more expensive than it should be.

Those are just the thumbnail sketches of the case. For a good, thorough analysis of it all, I highly, highly recommend that you go read Nathaniel Grow’s story on the case over at FanGraphs, where he breaks it down six ways from Sunday. Really, this is must-read material here.

It’s a bench trial, meaning that the judge, not a jury, will be making the decision here. For what it’s worth, Dan McLaughlin, an attorney/baseball writer/political writer who is familiar with the judge on this case just said that “knowing Judge [Shira] Scheindlin, expect a lengthy & detailed opinion; she won’t be afraid to break new ground.” There is no money at stake here, but Major League Baseball could be ordered at the end of this trial to change its broadcasting practices.

Stay tuned. Assuming you’re not blacked out, of course.

The Pirates sign Daniel Bard

Daniel Bard
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Minor league deals of fringe players are not news, but whenever the minor league deal goes to a player that used to be something — or was supposed to be something — it still makes you stop and think about it for a minute or two. On this basis Daniel Bard signings will always be something we make a note of. He just signed with the Pirates, Rob Biertempfel reports.

Bard hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2013 and his odyssey through multiple organizations since then has been one of the more unfortunate things to watch a once-promising pitcher go through. He was signed by the Cubs about a year ago but didn’t make the team and didn’t pitch anyplace, majors, minors or independents in 2015. The year before he made only four appearances for Single-A Hickory with the Rangers. He recorded two outs and allowed 13 runs on nine walks and seven hit batters. The Rangers released him shortly thereafter.

Here’s hoping the year off has cured him of the yips, Steve Blass disease or whatever else derailed Bard’s career.

Ex-Cardinals Scouting Director Christopher Correa got access to A LOT of Astros information

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 16: Jason Heyward #22 of the St. Louis Cardinals rounds third base after hitting a solo home run against the Miami Marlins in the first inning at Busch Stadium on August 16, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Former St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Christopher Correa faced a judge this afternoon and pleaded guilty to five counts of unauthorized access to computer information. He will be sentenced in April. Pursuant to the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the maximum potential penalty on each of the five counts is five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and restitution. Given his lack of a criminal record it’s unlikely to be that stiff, but those are the potential penalties under the statute.

For baseball fans, the most interesting information in all of this comes from the criminal indictment filed by prosecutors today, which you can read in its entirety here. I have copied the stuff of particular interest below. “Victim A” is almost certainly Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow:

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After this, and after a news story about their Ground Control system, the Astros changed passwords, club-wide. Correa was not deterred, however, as he hacked into Luhnow’s email account to get Luhnow’s Ground Control login information. He then went back into the system and got:

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During his hearing, the judge asked Correa what he was intending to do. Correa said, as has been reported in the past, that he was, in effect, trying to determine whether or not the Astros had appropriated the Cardinals’ confidential information when Luhnow left to join the Astros. Which led to this observation from the judge:

Which, yeah, is kind of not cool. Indeed, breaking the law to retrieve what one thinks is stolen is what has O.J. Simpson in a Nevada jail cell right now and has led the arrest and conviction of vigilantes everywhere. That said, the judge asked Correa if he found Cardinals information in the Astros’ system:

That may not raise to a criminal level — there is no allegation Astros people hacked into the Cardinals’ system — but it could be relevant to Major League Baseball in a larger team-to-team information security matter. All of that depends on what Correa is saying he saw, which we do not know yet.

That aside, the level and the amount of information Correa got from the Astros is extraordinary. The defense some have offered — that he was merely checking to see if the Astros stole something — seems like a tiny part of this compared to what he accessed. And the argument I have heard from some people that, “hey, Correa was just walking in an unlocked door, so it’s not a big deal,” is not really true. He walked in, the Astros locked it, so then he broke into Jeff Luhnow’s office, as it were, and stole the keys so he could walk back in again. That is not just idle perusing. That is a concerted effort to carry out corporate espionage.

All of which is to say that this is far from over, especially from a baseball perspective. Correa performed his duties as Cardinals scouting director for over two years while in possession of extensive amounts of Astros’ confidential information. That benefitted him personally and, by extension, benefitted the Cardinals via the acts he took on their behalf with that information in his head. And that’s the case even if he was the sole person involved. If anyone else accessed Ground Control or was made privy to the information Correa obtained, it makes the Cardinals’ collective informational advantage all the greater.

Major League Baseball needs to find out what, if anything the Astros have of the Cardinals, as Correa claims. They need to learn — as they may still learn given that the investigation and the case is not over — what law enforcement knows about anyone else’s involvement. There is still a long way to go. However, based on what is known at the moment, the data breach here was extensive and extraordinary and the Cardinals will likely be facing some stiff, stiff penalties as a result. Maybe financial penalties. Maybe draft pick penalties. Maybe some combination.

Either way, this case is way bigger than people thought it to be yesterday.