My friend, the inveterate Chris Dunn, is a good fellow with only one real flaw that's life-defining, being a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. He and I tend to send emails back-and-forth that occasionally say nothing more than "Cardinals suck" or "Cubs suck." Of course, given the comparative records of the two teams during the past, with St. Louis being one of the most successful teams in the history of baseball, and the Cubs...er, not having won a World Series in a 106 years, the exchange might seem a wee bit one-sided, and so it is. After all, the Cardinals do indeed suck. But what can I do about that?
Happily, that's his only real, major flaw. The others are manageable. Mainly, it's liking the St. Louis Cardinals, who suck.
So, it was with much admiration that he sent me an article from Tuesday's New York Times, and wrote that, "As it turns out...some Cardinals do, indeed, suck." And there was nothing ironic in his note. He meant it.
(I would argue about the expression, "some Cardinals," limiting the reality far too much, but given the source I really do have to tip my cap to him for at least owning up to some.)
I've been reticent what to write about this story, not wanting to kick a good guy when he's down (unlike what Cardinals fans would do, because the Cardinals suck). And after all, this problem is the Cardinals' doing, not his. He just made an unfortunate life-choice to root for a team that sucks. That's something he has to live with. The sins of the Cardinals are their alone.
But the story is too significant to let pass. And so, we dive in.
The story, which you can read in full here, is that the St. Louis Cardinals are being investigated -- no, not by Major League Baseball -- but by the F.B.I. and the U.S. Department of Justice over corporate espionage. (Okay, by MLB, too, but that's sort of taking a back seat.)
Usually baseball infractions for cheating are along the lines of hiding an employee with binoculars somewhere in the upper-deck of the outfield to steal signs from the opposing team's catcher. Or a pitcher rubbing Vaseline on the baseball. Or inflating the air in the footballs to...oh, wait, sorry, that's the NFL.
But this is about breaking into the computer system of your business competition to steal corporate information. As the Times story explains --
"The attack would represent the first known case of corporate espionage in which a professional sports team hacked the network of another team. Illegal intrusions into companies’ networks have become commonplace, but they are generally conducted by hackers operating in foreign countries, like Russia and China, who steal large amounts of data or trade secrets for military equipment and electronics."
Most of the public reaction in the baseball world has been shock since the Cardinals have the reputation of being a classy organization. (Of course, left out is that the Cardinals suck...) Then, too, the New England Patriots have the reputation of being a classy organization -- other than Deflategate and Spygate. But even those events pale in comparison to criminal corporate espionage.
The short version of the story is that a prickly Cardinals executive named Jeff Luhnow had been in charge of player development and did such a good job that the Houston Astros hired him as their General Manager. And apparently the Cardinals think that he took some proprietary information with him. Or they say that as a cover story. Mind you, he may have taken it -- or may not have. But even if so, computer hacking a rival organization generally is not considered the proper or legal response.
This is pretty remarkable. If true, my assumption of what happened is that some executive of the Cardinals said, “Well, if he took our proprietary information, then we have a right to it, so it’s okay if we hack their system to find what is ours.” And believed that.
(Or said, "He was sort of a jerk, and also screwed us by leaving, so hey, let's screw with him. Hee-hee-hee.")
The additionally inexplicable thing about this is that two years ago the Houston Astros switched from the National League (where the two teams were rivals) to the American League, and so they don’t even compete with the Cardinals anymore. So, even if Mr. Luhnow took some proprietary information (whatever that would be…), it doesn’t seem like it would be important enough to reach the level of "Let's commit a federal crime to fix this."
If you think someone took your property, you sue them or get a court order. You don’t break into their house. Baseball people know you can get in really big trouble for simply putting a guy in the stands with binoculars to steal public signals from the catcher. In what universe did the Cardinals executives think this was a good idea?? If they were involved, of course.
Their involvement does seem likely. After evidence of a hack appeared last year, with private information getting posted online, Major League Baseball contacted the F.B.I. As the Times reported, "Agents soon found that the Astros’ network had been entered from a computer at a home that some Cardinals employees had lived in. The agents then turned their attention to the team’s front office."
This is what's referred to as an "Uh-oh" moment. This is where the team goes around looking for some low-level lackey to take one for the team. Unfortunately, unlike the New England Patriots (now known as "the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL"), there's no need to have anyone inflate baseballs.
Honestly, I think this is more a Really Stupid crime (if it came from the Cardinals), more than a venal one of malicious intent by "The Team." But I don't know that. And while I think only a few petulant people -- and not those at the very top -- likely decided to do this, I don't know which ones, how high or low they are in the organization, and who they passed the information along to, nor if they explained to the recipients where they got it, or how the hacked information was used. All we know for certain is that some was posted online.
However limited and peevish I may think this is, it is nonetheless no small thing to the justice system, where if found guilty, a few Cardinals employees will get a five-days suspension by Major League Baseball. The F.B.I. and Justice Department are involved. And as an F.B.I. spokesman told the newspaper: “The F.B.I. aggressively investigates all potential threats to public- and private-sector systems. Once our investigations are complete, we pursue all appropriate avenues to hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace.”
Personally, I think that's a bit limiting. The St. Louis Cardinals pose a threat to the universe.
At the moment, I am looking forward to hearing the explanation from the Cardinals that it was the work of a locker room equipment manager, just trying to help catcher Yadier Molina who never suggested he do any of this.
I'm also trying to find out if New England coach Bill Belichick is a consultant for the Cardinals.
(Rest assured, however, that I know Beelzebub was not involved, because he has an exclusive contract with the New York Mets.)
No doubt the Cardinals will try to whitewash this whole thing by trotting out the old chestnut and saying something like, "This isn't who we are. How could a team with Stan Musial really ever do something wrong?" Hey, how could a team with Ernie Banks lose for 106 years?
No word yet from Major League Baseball that if the Cardinals are found guilty of corporate espionage, whether they will have to vacate all their wins for the year, dropping them into last place in the National League Central Division with a 0-64 record, on their way to a well-earned 0-162.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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