It’s one thing to steal signs on the baseball diamond. Teams deal with that on the field.
Pilfering scouting information by hacking into another team’s database, as the St. Louis Cardinals are alleged to have done, is a federal crime.
The Cardinals are being investigated by the FBI and Justice Department for hacking into a Houston Astros network that housed special databases, including internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports.
The news of the investigation quickly spread throughout baseball Tuesday, even to where Art Stewart, the Royals senior adviser to general manager Dayton Moore, was conducting a scouting mission.
Stewart is a legendary scout, in his 63rd year in the business, and has been with the Royals since their inception. Keeping data on players and prospects is nearly as old as the game itself, and Stewart said he can’t recall an instance of an opposing team stealing information from his team.
“Guys would write individual reports and send them in,” Stewart said. “The only way you could have fraud in those days was postal fraud. Somebody would have had to steal the mail.
“And we didn’t have cell phones. Everything was done on an office phone. Sometimes you’d have to find a pay phone booth to call from the ballpark.
“It was old-fashioned but it worked.”
The investigation into the Cardinals, first reported by The New York Times on Tuesday, centers on what law enforcement officials believe was an attack on the Astros “hoping to wreak havoc on the work of Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ general manager who had been a successful and polarizing executive with Cardinals until 2011,” according to the Times.
The front-office personnel aren’t identified and it’s not known whether the team’s highest ranking officials knew of the hacking or authorized it. Accessing someone’s computer without authorization is a federal crime under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Both teams issued statements acknowledging the investigation and declining further comment. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the issue on Tuesday at Fenway Park in Boston as part of his tour of major-league ballparks.
“We knew about it, well in advance of the report,” Manfred said. “There is an ongoing investigation with respect to an unauthorized entry into Houston’s system. To assume that that investigation is going to produce a particular result with respect to the Cardinals — let alone to jump to the use of the word like cyber-attack — I just think that we don’t know that those are the facts yet.
“There is an ongoing investigation; we’ve been fully cooperative. Obviously, any allegation like this, no matter how serious it turns out to be, is of great concern to us. But it’s just too early to speculate on what the facts are going to turn out to be and what action, if any, is necessary.
“Soon enough, I think that we will have full information as to what went on. I think you can rest assured that we will act appropriately at that point in time. I think people should also not lose sight of the fact that in addition to what happened, there’s the question of who did it? Who knew about it? Was the organization responsible? Was the individual responsible? There’s a whole set of issues that need to be sorted through.”
Although business networks have been compromised before, this could be the first instance, if proven, of one sports team hacking the computer network of another.
The rise of technology in baseball was explained this way by Stewart in his book, The Art of Scouting: “Now you have these numbers guys every stat you can think of on demand, and instead of arguing about who has the better swing or more fluid pitching motion you can pull it up on the video screen and see for yourself.
“We’ve come a long way.
“But I’ll tell you this: Even back in those days, we still figured out a way to get players who could play.”