The St. Louis Cardinals reportedly are under investigation by federal prosecutors looking into a security breach of the Houston Astros' computer systems.
The New York Times, citing unidentified law enforcement officials, reported that Cardinals officials allegedly hacked into the Astros' baseball database, which goes by the name of Ground Control, to swipe proprietary information involving scouting reports and other internal data.
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Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference at Fenway Park that it is too early to draw conclusions that a cyber attack had occurred.
Manfred indicated that he was far from determining any disciplinary action in this case -- or if a penalty would even be warranted.
"This is a federal investigation," Manfred said, "not a baseball investigation."
And not many details have surfaced yet, with the Times reporting that it is unclear who in the Cardinals' organization knew about the hack -- or exactly how high the directive may have reached within the front office. The Times story also noted that both the Cardinals and Major League Baseball have been served with subpoenas.
"The team has fully cooperated with the investigation and will continue to do so," the Cardinals said Tuesday in a statement. "Given that this is an ongoing federal investigation, it is not appropriate for us to comment further."
The Astros also said they are cooperating with the investigation but declined further comment.
While the two clubs are no longer divisional rivals in the National League Central -- the Astros switched to the AL West in 2013 -- the franchises have a common link in Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who was hired by Houston in 2011 after spending the previous nine years working in the Cardinals' scouting department.
Luhnow worked with a similar database created in St. Louis, dubbed Redbird, and the Times reported there is suspicion that some Cardinals employees -- through the help of old passwords of those who defected with Luhnow -- hacked into Ground Control to find out if they had taken any information from their former employer. The Times also reported that the alleged hacks could be the result of vengeful Cardinals employees who disliked Luhnow during his time there.
Major League Baseball, which usually acts as judge and jury in disputes between its 30 teams, has no jurisdiction in criminal proceedings.
And now that federal agencies are involved, and with the increased scrutiny on cyber-crime, any Cardinals employees implicated could be subject to prosecution.
"It's very tough to put the genie back in the bottle," said Robert Boland, a sports attorney and academic chair/professor of sports management at NYU. Boland also stressed that any punishment could be influenced by whether the Cardinals benefited in some way from the stolen information. And that part of this remains uncertain as the commissioner's office waits before taking any action.
"Once the investigative process has been completed by federal law enforcement officials," Major League Baseball said in a statement, "we will evaluate the next steps and will make decisions promptly."
The FBI and Justice Department declined to comment on the situation, citing the ongoing investigation.
Baseball is a $9-billion industry, and each team's information-gathering techniques and operating systems are considered commercial secrets, like any other business.
Last season, the Astros' internal trade discussions from a 10-month stretch were spilled online in a cyber hack that may or may not be related to the current investigation. That was enough to convince the Yankees to overhaul their own computer network and heighten security.
"We felt secure before but we made it more difficult," general manager Brian Cashman said yesterday. "It's a little bit more inconvenient for us to access our system ourselves, but we spent some more money to add some further measures. There was grumblings by the employees on the front end of it because to access our system it's more difficult for all of us to do so, but we're better protected."
With Erik Boland in Miami