Corporate Computer Espionage Goes Major League

A municipal worker sits near the body of a lion at a flooded zoo area in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sunday, June 14, 2015. Tigers, lions, a hippopotamus and other animals have escaped from the zoo in Georgiaís capital after heavy flooding destroyed their enclosures, prompting authorities to warn residents in Tbilisi to say inside Sunday. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov)

(WTNH) It’s easy to rattle off a list of the suspected worst offenders in the world of cyber-espionage: Russia, China, North Korea.

But the St. Louis Cardinals?

It’s a question many are asking today after the FBI revealed it’s been investigating the Cardinals for hacking into the computer system of the Houston Astros, allegedly to acquire proprietary information on player personnel, scouting, and statistics from the team’s database network.  If true, it would mark the first time a pro sports team gave the steal sign on a competitor in the digital realm.

Coming from some teams — looking at you, New England Patriots — this might be less of a surprise.  But the St. Louis Cardinals are one of the most successful and some would say classiest franchises in all of sports.  Only the New York Yankees have won more championships.  To say they are beloved by their fans, who spread out far from St. Louis itself across much of the Midwest, would be a gross understatement.  As I write this, they have the best record in baseball.

So why would anyone in the Cardinals front office do this? And why the Astros, until this season a perennial stinker of a team?  According to The New York Times, investigators say it may have been personal.  Former Cardinals executive Jeff Luhnow, who devised a computer system in St. Louis to track and measure player performance and personnel, took his talents to the Astros in 2011 when he was named general manager.  Apparently some people with the Cardinals didn’t “like” him during his tenure in St. Louis, and investigators say they think revenge might be a factor.

It’s a good comedy topic this week, if you get tired of Donald Trump for President jokes. But it’s kind of serious, at least to baseball people and true fans.  Back when players were rated only by their batting average or ERA, there wouldn’t be much to steal.  It’s all public information.  But in the “moneyball” era, when a dizzying array of new statistics known as sabermetrics have turned player performance on a cost basis into an algorithmic exercise equal to anything Google could dream up, proprietary information matters.  Stealing it from another team is a black eye for Major League Baseball, and for one of its most respected teams; a team now being served with federal subpoenas for electronic correspondence.

Kind of gives new meaning to the old advice for batters heading to the plate: just step in there and take a few hacks at it.

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