So, what a day to be alive. Donald Trump is running for president and my beloved Cardinals are involved in an FBI "hacking" investigation that threatens to turn into their version of Spygate and Deflategate combined. It is worth pointing out that it is physically impossible for me to have any sort of emotional distance from a story like this and that the Cardinals could murder several drifters and I'd probably come up with some sort of mental jiu-jitsu that allowed me to justify it. So keep that in mind.
But let's dig into what we know and what we don't know.
So what are the Cardinals accused of doing?
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, a famously polarizing figure in both Houston and St. Louis, housed a computer program called "Ground Control" in Houston, which held "their internal deliberations about statistics and players." (Bloomberg Business wrote about this program last year.) It is similar to a program Luhnow ran in St. Louis called "Redbird." According to the Times report, "Investigators believe Cardinals officials, concerned that Mr. Luhnow had taken their idea and proprietary baseball information to the Astros, examined a master list of passwords used by Mr. Luhnow and the other officials who had joined the Astros when they worked for the Cardinals." Apparently they found some matches. Some of the documents that Cardinals executives reportedly discovered were on Deadspin last year. So there's no question that someone got into the internal files illegally. We knew that before today. Now, according to the Times story, those someones may have been Cardinals officials.
Is that bad?
If true, yes. Very bad. Not only is it the sort of corporate espionage you generally only see taking place in China and North Korea, it's a felony. There are times that we take dumb stories like Deflategate and make them into bigger deals than they are just to keep us entertained. But "hacking" into a competitor's internal computer system is a serious crime outside of just the world of baseball. If someone at Merrill Lynch did this to someone at Goldman Sachs, it would be a massive scandal in the financial industry, and for good reason.
Is this really hacking? I mean, shouldn't the Astros have just changed their passwords?
I suppose, but this wasn't just a matter of the Astros leaving a window and login open on their computer. (Though that would have been a crime too, if the Cardinals had rifled through that.) The accused Cardinals officials referenced old passwords used by Luhnow in St. Louis to gain access to Houston's network. So it was a proactive decision to hack in. Maybe they didn't use some crazy virus program to get in there, but that doesn't matter.
Who on the Cardinals are accused of this? GM John Mozeliak? Owner Bill DeWitt? Matt Carpenter? Fredbird?
We do not know just yet. The story does not name them and merely mentions that they have not been suspended by Major League Baseball or put on leave. One suspects we will know soon.
Does it matter?
It would seem so. If this was done by two lower-level "vengeful" employees, and it was isolated to them, they can be fired and booked and everyone can move on. If Mozeliak or anyone close to him knew, however, this could eviscerate the entire organization, the one considered by many in baseball to be the game's best. But then again: Scapegoating lower-level officials and denying any knowledge at the top levels is a time-honored scandal tradition.
Does this, if true, mean the Cardinals somehow "cheated?"
Well, everybody has a different definition of cheating. It's why the term gets thrown around more often as a pejorative than an actual accusation. (It's why Deflategate, as stupid as it was, will stick forever: There's something primal and universal about the notion of being "cheated.") But if your definition is "tried to use illegal means to create an advantage other teams did not enjoy" -- and that seems a pretty solid definition! -- if this is true, then yes, the Cardinals cheated.
Does this, if true, devalue the past decade-plus of success the Cardinals have had?
Well, remember whom you're talking to right now … but no, obviously not. Now, it is always possible that an investigation will reveal that the Cardinals were secretly mainlining all their players with HGH, or using hacked information to send imperceptible shocks into the brain of opposing hitters right when they were about to swing the bat. But otherwise: This is corporate malfeasance more than it is athletic malfeasance. The players on the field knew nothing about it; it's highly unlikely even the manager knew about it. And even if they did, it's far from clear what tangible on-field benefits the information would have given them. And if even there were tangible on-field benefits, they certainly had nothing to do with the 10 NLCS the Cardinals have reached over the last 19 years. The Cardinals were hugely successful before, during and after Luhnow. This is more about officials allegedly being paranoid, vengeful little jerks than gaining any sort of advantage the Cardinals would have benefitted from at any point before now.
Will this differentiation matter to anyone at all?
Well, you hope it matters to Major League Baseball, who will presumably be meting out some punishment when all this is settled, not just to the officials but the team itself. You assume they'll be reasoned enough to have punishments span into the future rather than reaching into the past. But to everyone else? The fans of opposing teams who have turned the Cardinals into one of the most resented and disliked organizations in the sport over the last decade? They will use this as a cudgel with which to bludgeon the Cardinals until the end of time, just like everyone does with the Patriots in the NFL. If these allegations are proven to be true, the cloud will hang over the organization forever, whether it has had anything to do with its success or not.
If it's true, does the organization deserve that?
Yes. If it's true, they do. The players don't. The fans don't. But the team officials -- the ones charged with tending for and taking care of the collective public and community trust that is one of the most proud organizations in all of baseball -- will deserve every bit of it. And a good bit more, if you ask me.
How about you? How are you feeling?
I'm furious, and I think I need a nap. And I still love my team and always will. And I am not turning my computer on all of October.