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.”