So by now everyone has heard the big news, right? Donald Trump is running for President! Oh, not that? Uh, Dale Earnhardt Jr got engaged? Not that either, eh? Oh, you mean that the Cardinals “hacked” the Astros. Okay, so let’s talk about that a bit based on what we know.
Many major media sources are advertising this as the Cardinals’ organization hacking into the Astros’ system. That’s what the FBI is investigating, but there hasn’t been anything reported to that effect. Right now we have the actions of a couple employees. Given that they were employees that shared a residence, odds are that they are lower level ones.
Let’s also get something clear from the very beginning. There was no “hacking” going on. Unless these employees somehow got a list of passwords used by other GMs in baseball, they didn’t hack your team’s computers. The word hacking creates images of guys trying to access a system by forcing their way in without a username and password. That isn’t what happened.
These employees had a list of passwords that Jeff Luhnow and other former Cardinals employees who had left the organization for Houston used. Guess what? Someone re-used a password.
It’s like failing to re-key your locks after breaking up with a girlfriend who has a key to your apartment. Her using it to enter your apartment and dig through your stuff is still illegal, but she’s hardly a master burglar.
Even the Ground Control system the Astros have was easily found. Until the leak of a lot of information from the Astros internal system last summer, Ground Control was easily accessible via groundcontrol.astros.com. That link is now down, but the web.archive.org system has a few copies of the login page that it archived at different times through 2013.
That’s the situation based on the information that has been released and available so far. That is all we know. Anything else is wild conjecture at this point and while the results of the FBI investigation could run the gamut from the organization being criminally culpable to just a couple employees getting fired, we really don’t know and really lack enough information to generate even an educated guess at what really went down right now.
But there are a few things in the information that lead me to believe that this was just a handful of employees doing this on their own and not a sanctioned corporate decision to strike at the Astros or steal information from them.
First, this was done from the comfort of their own home. The New York Times report says that the access traced back to a home shared by Cardinals’ employees. Don’t they know that stuff like this is what your neighbor’s unsecured wifi network is for? It seems like a very amateur mistake. Anyone who has watched virtually any crime drama on TV over the last decade should know that what you do on the Internet can be traced back to you and your computer.
Knowing the intentional way that John Mozeliak goes about his business, weighing his options and ensuring that all the angles are covered, this doesn’t seem like a mistake the organization would make. They’d have researched how to do it so it couldn’t be traced or even hire a few guys in Ukraine to do it on the cheap.
This is a team that is reluctant to gamble on international signings because they don’t have enough data to provide a good projection yet. They don’t do things without thinking them through.
Perhaps these guys thought that nobody would notice a valid login attempt. After all, they were stupid enough to think they could get away with this.
Second, whoever logged into Ground Control leaked data. If the Cardinals were doing something to gain an advantage, why would they have basically waved a flag and told the world that there was a leak in the Astros computer system. This is counter-intuitive to the claim that the Cardinals were doing it to receive a competitive advantage. If you’re getting a competitive advantage, you keep it as long as you can.
So why is the FBI investigating the Cardinals? Considering the guys that their investigation led them to work for one of 29 competitors to the Astros, they need to determine whether it was just the employees acting alone or whether they were directed by higher level employees to do what they did for whatever reason. If the Cardinals did direct these employees to do it, then I think we can all agree that this is a very big deal and there will be a hefty price to pay for whoever had anything to do with it and rightfully so.
But based on the information that’s been revealed so far, we have nothing to indicate that the Cardinals sanctioned this. In my own wild conjecture, I imagine something like this happening while a couple employees kicked back watching TV with a couple beers, maybe even watching an Astros game…
Employee #1: “Man, that Luhnow guy was an idiot.”
Employee #2: “Yeah he was. Hey, I’ve got this list of passwords he used, want to see if he’s dumb enough to not change them?”
Employee #1: “Dude, it worked! He is an idiot!”
Employee #2: “LMAO, he thinks Bud Norris is worth that? Is he going to pitch against us every night or something?”
Still very illegal, but it is not the major corporate espionage that this is being made out to be by the media who are covering it and it certainly isn’t cheating. At least, not based on the information that the general public so far privy to.
The day may come where this story is worth that kind of attention, but the sad part is that if the Cardinals are found to be totally innocent in this situation, the stain of the cheating implication by the major media won’t wash out for quite some time.
Partly because nobody will cover it.