#360USA: St. Louis Cardinals under FBI investigation amid hacking claims

Steve Brenner 13:28 22/06/2015
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The perfect image: St. Louis Cardinals' public perception could be shattered.

The St. Louis Cardinals are supposedly brimming with everything that is great about baseball.

A superbly run and storied franchise who, with 11 World Series wins, are second only to the New York Yankees.

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That image, though, could well have been shattered following an astonishing week of revelations which treads new, controversial grounds in modern-day sport.

News the FBI are investigating claims that members of the Cardinals backroom staff had hacked into the database of the Houston Astros in 2013 has left fans stunned. The attempt to glean information from Texas centres around their current General Manager Jeff Luhnow, a man who worked wonders in St. Louis before leaving for Houston in 2011.

Despite not having a backstory steeped in baseball expertise, the former technology executive used the gaming/casino industry to help shape an analytics system that transformed the Cardinals roster, and with it their World Series chances, with revolutionary scientific analysis. At present, it is unclear on just how large a scale the hacking was performed.

It could have been some interns who stumbled across some old passwords, which allowed them to get into the system.

Or, more threateningly and far more seriously, it was a premeditated full scale cyber assault, which will change the face of sport and how clubs protect their data.

Either way, the FBI are involved and that means once the culprits are brought to book, the ramifications will fly quicker than a fastball. It’s sporting espionage on a level never seen before. To see Luhnow thrive at Houston – they are enjoying a superb season – is believed to have angered those he left behind.

Not only were the hacks aimed to put a dampener on his magic, was it also to see if he’d transported information from St. Louis to his new job?

“I didn’t take anything, any proprietary information. Nor have we ever received any inquiries from anybody that even suggested that we had.” Luhnow (below) said.

The fear of the forward thinking 49 year-old creating something new and more fantastical than before could also have played its part in the crime. 

No matter whatever the reason, the bottom line is that illegally accessing another company’s computer system is a Federal offence.

Even if it was a few kids having a laugh, this is highly embarrassing for an institution which prides itself on acting the right way.

A look back to Luhnow’s work gives a fascinating insight into how we’ve reached this point. The businessman turned baseball executive created a database for the Cardinals called Redbird with the help of a genius NASA scientist named Sig Mejdal in 2005.

In just three years Luhnow , who was a master of managerial restructuring , had a fully operational scouting and player development system in full effect.

For seven seasons, the Cards drafted more players who became big leaguers than anyone else.

Many behind the scenes were wary of a man who had no sporting background yet was working wonders at breathtaking speed.

Houston Astros boss Luhnow worked wonders for the Cardinals before leaving in 2011.

His finely chosen drafts were the sparks which helped the Cardinals roar to the post season play-off’s between 2009 and 2014 as well as winning the World Series in 2011.

Houston , though, had already come calling and, soon enough, the Ground Control database was created. It’s astonishing in detail – for example the mechanics of a player’s pitch, his family and health background, as well as the dynamics of his bat swing are all detailed. From there, numerical projections are cast. No stone is left unturned.

Eyebrows were raised last year when transfer talk conducted internally by the Astros was leaked to the Deadspin website.

“It’s opened up a huge can of worms and is a serious wake up call”  – Adam Levin

“It was like coming home and seeing your house has been broken into, “ said Lunhow.

The electronic footprint showed the hack took place at a house where Cardinals staff lived which piqued the FBI’s interest.

“It’s opened up a huge can of worms and is a serious wake up call for sporting fanchises all over the world,” security expert Adam Levin said. “However big or small the operation was, it has smeared the Cardinals’ reputation.” 

All eyes are now on new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. What a first storm to deal with.

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