The FBI and US Justice Department are investigating the St. Louis Cardinals for reportedly hacking into the computer system of the American League's Houston Astros.
Evidence has been found that the Cardinals illegally accessed databases owned by the Astros, containing proprietary information about trades and statistics, according to the New York Times. This case could mark the first time a professional sports team has engaged in hacking to spy on another, The Times reported.
An anonymous baseball executive told The Washington Post that the spread of the kind of information stolen from the Astros could be extremely detrimental.
“There’s so much proprietary analysis, and the teams that do this sort of thing each have their own magic, secret formula for how they evaluate players, people, systems – all kinds of things,” the executive said, asking for anonymity because the investigation is still underway. “For another team to have that, for whatever their purposes, is an unbelievable advantage for the other team.”
The National League's Cardinals are currently one of the best teams in Major League Baseball, holding 11 World Series titles and the best record in the majors so far this season. So why would they attempt to steal information from the Astros, consistently one of the worst teams in the sport? The link between the two seems to be Jeff Luhnow, a former Cardinals executive who is now the Astros’ general manager.
Law enforcement officials told The New York Times that the Cardinals officials’ motive for stealing the information could have been hostility toward Mr. Luhnow, either for leaving the Cardinals or for the “polarizing” approach he had taken with them. Or, it could have been fear that Luhnow had taken proprietary information with him to the Astros.
The New York Times said investigators think front-office Cardinals officials turned to an old list of passwords used by Luhnow and other former colleagues who moved from the Cardinals to the Astros. With the passwords, they were able to break into the Astros’ network, a database Luhnow created called Ground Control.
The Ground Control hack took place in 2013. Documents were posted online, and the Astros began working with the FBI to find the culprit. Luhnow told reporters at the time that the hack was “a reflection of the age we [are] living in. People are always trying to steal information, get information, whether it’s legally or illegally, and in this case it was illegally obtained and it’s unfortunate.”
None of the Cardinals officials being investigated have been removed from office. The New York Times said the commissioner’s office would most likely wait to make any decisions until the investigation was over.
“The St. Louis Cardinals are aware of the investigation into the security breach of the Houston Astros’ database,” the team said in a statement. “The team has fully cooperated with the investigation and will continue to do so.”
In a similar statement, a spokesman for Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred said 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.”