St. Louis Cardinals officials are being investigated by federal law enforcement authorities for hacking the Houston Astros’ front-office computers, according to a U.S. law enforcement official.
Investigators found evidence that Cardinals front-office personnel broke into a proprietary network of the Astros, known as Ground Control, which housed internal discussions about trades, statistics and scouting reports, said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
The initial probe came to light a year ago after the website Deadspin posted leaked documents from the network. The New York Times reported the Cardinals’ involvement today.
“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. Given that this is an ongoing federal investigation, it is not appropriate for us to comment further.”
Major League Baseball and the Astros also said in statements that they were cooperating with the inquiry.
Astros spokeswoman Anita Sehgal said in an e-mail that the team is “actively cooperating with an ongoing federal investigation” and couldn’t comment on the situation.
Angela Dodge, spokeswoman for the Houston U.S. Attorney’s office, said agency policy forbids confirming or denying the existence of any investigation that isn’t part of the public record.
Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters in June 2014 that the team was working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to uncover who had leaked details of private conversations the team had with other clubs about potential trades, which were posted on Deadspin. The Astros found out about the issue a month earlier, he said.
“It was definitely an outside entity that decided to come in illegally and try and take information,” Luhnow said, according to a transcript of his June 2014 comments posted by the Houston Chronicle.
Luhnow also said he had switched to using pencil and paper for all his conversations, and that he had been talking to peers around the sport to make sure they weren’t hacked as well.
“It definitely was an evil activity,” he said.
Following the best-selling release of the book “Moneyball,” which chronicled the Oakland Athletics’ use of statistics to remake its roster, Luhnow was hired by the Cardinals in 2003 to build a proprietary network.
St. Louis won the World Series in 2006 and 2011. When the team returned to the championship round of the playoffs in 2013 (losing to the Boston Red Sox in six games), 16 players on the Cardinals’ 25-man roster had been drafted during Luhnow’s tenure.
Luhnow, himself, left the Cardinals in December 2011 to become the Astros’ GM.
Houston, which moved from the National League Central to the American League West in 2013, went 55-107 in 2012 and 51-111 in 2013. They improved by 19 games last season, posting a 70-92 record, and this season they’re 37-28 and atop their division.
The Cardinals are 42-21, also leading their division.
Investigators believe that hacking was undertaken by vengeful front-office employees who were trying to harm Luhnow’s work, and that the Cardinals’ officials examined a master list of passwords used by Luhnow for St. Louis’s network and then used those passwords to gain access to Houston’s, according to the Times.
The Cardinals’ officials under investigation haven’t been put on leave, suspended or fired, the newspaper said.
This is probably not the first time a sports team has been hacked by a competitor, said Craig Newman, chair of the privacy and data security practice of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler in New York.
“Data analytics have become a critical strategic and tactical drive for both professional and collegiate athletics,” Newman said in an e-mailed statement. “Unfortunately, the transition from statistical modeling in player evaluation made famous by Moneyball, to stealing sensitive information from competitors is a natural progression.”