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.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.