Corporate espionage in baseball?

This was shaping up to be a boring Tuesday. The weather is iffy where I live (suburban New York) today and last night's loss left a bad taste in my mouth, but then something miraculous happened...

Yes, you are reading that correctly. The FBI did an investigation and people within the Cardinals organization, hacked the Houston Astros.

From the Times' article:

Investigators have uncovered evidence that Cardinals officials broke into a network of the Houston Astros that housed special databases the team had built, according to law enforcement officials. Internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports were compromised, the officials said.

This is pretty amazing.

The officials did not say which employees were the focus of the investigation or whether the team’s highest-ranking officials were aware of the hacking or authorized it. The investigation is being led by the F.B.I.’s Houston field office and has progressed to the point that subpoenas have been served on the Cardinals and Major League Baseball for electronic correspondence.

And serious.

Major League Baseball “has been aware of and has fully cooperated with the federal investigation into the illegal breach of the Astros’ baseball operations database,” a spokesman for baseball’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, said in a written statement.

Notice how the word alleged is missing from that statement from MLB?

This situation sounds like a plot from a TV show. Probably one that airs on HBO.

Law enforcement officials believe the hacking was executed by vengeful front-office employees for the Cardinals hoping to wreak havoc on the work of Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ general manager who had been a successful and polarizing executive with the Cardinals until 2011.

More from the article:

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. The Cardinals officials are believed to have used those passwords to gain access to the Astros’ network, law enforcement officials said.

And thanks to that part of story, Twitter has become a goldmine of funny jokes about easy passwords. My contribution was to post this classic clip from Spaceballs:

This story has also exposed some of the more defensive Cardinals fans as well. If you're not familiar, the St. Louis Cardinals' fanbase loves to refer to itself as "the best fans in baseball." Well, let's just say that some of the best fans in baseball are having a bit of a meltdown at the moment. And it's fun to watch.

We're seeing everything from "A few bad employees don't bring down a whole organization!" to "Royals fans are also cheating in All Star voting!" It's amazing and I'm so thankful it's happening.

In all seriousness, this is actually a pretty significant story. Some people will try to minimize the situation but having one baseball organization hack into another organization's database is pretty brazen. As it says in the NYT piece, "Illegal intrusions into companies’ networks have become commonplace, but it is generally conducted by hackers operating in foreign countries, like Russia and China, who steal large tranches of data or trade secrets for military equipment and electronics." Corporate espionage between two baseball teams is rare, as far as we know.

Who knows? Maybe we'll be finding out about more security breaches in the coming days?