MLB Sets Dangerous Precedent in St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros Hacking Scandal

The St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros hacking scandal is now settled. So, what precedent did Commissioner Manfred's ruling set for future cases such as this one?

When I first heard the the MLB’s “sentencing” on the Cardinals hacking scandal, in which the Cardinals Scouting Director Chris Correa admitted to hacking onto the Houston Astros servers for information, I was surprised and a little pleased.

The Astros scored the Cardinal’s top two draft picks in 2017 as well as $2-million cash, a decent and unexpected haul for such a publicity nightmare.

But this isn’t about the Astros reparations – I will not be making the argument that the Astros should have received more, as I do not believe teams should be extraordinarily rewarded for having weak cyber security.  There is no precedent for how a team in the Astros’ position should be repaid, and I was honestly surprised to receive anything at all.

No, this is about the Cardinals and Chris Correa. This is how an organization skated by scott-free by having their fall-man dive on his sword.

First off, the Cardinals punishment was low – shockingly low – and sets a dangerous precedent for the future of the league.

This was no small-scale hacking; Chris Correa reportedly hacked into the Astros’ ‘Ground Control’ (a database for player evaluation) 48 times over a 2.5 year span, and accessed the accounts of five Astros employees. 

Not to mention there was something personal to this – Correa used to work with Sig Mejdal and Jeff Luhnow in St. Louis, where relationships reportedly weren’t great. Jealousy reached a boiling point when Sports Illustrated praised and pronounced the Astros as “your 2017 World Series champs”. The Astros and Cardinals obviously took similar analytical approaches, and Correa was not happy that the Astros were being publicly lauded despite winning nothing at that that time. But motivation is besides the point.

The point is that a team can do something extremely illegal that gives them a huge edge – much bigger than the impact of 'deflated' footballs, mind you – and get a slap on the wrist for it. The Cardinals had access to the Astros’ trade discussions, player evaluations, draft preferential, etc. This is HUGE information for any team to have access to, especially when the other team is a division rival. 

Now if you’re sitting in a front-office around the MLB you’re thinking “wow, I can have access to any teams information and if I get caught my only punishment is the loss of two low-probability picks and a little bit of money. Get a hacker on the phone!”

However, the MLB also set another precedent – you better have a fall-guy to pin the mess on if things go South. That’s where Chris Correa comes in.

How the MLB bought that Correa acted alone is beyond me. Logistically, how is this even possible? Did Correa just keep the knowledge to himself? Did he drop vague-innuendos to his bosses that knew not to ask questions? The scenario in which he is the only member of the Cardinals staff to have any idea about this hacking operations doesn't make much sense.

That may seem obvious enough, but on-top of that Correa literally admits to sharing this information with his colleagues. At top of this article is a copy of his court hearing, in which he clearly states he shared information with his "colleagues," AKA fellow Cardinals front-office members. How the MLB missed this glaring confession is a mystery to me.

Further damning evidence is that Correa received a promotion with the team in 2014, the same year he began hacking the Astros computer systems. Coincidence? Probably not, but there's already so much evidence that he clearly wasn't acting entirely alone that its pointless to speculate, right? Well not according to the MLB.

There is no doubt this punishment is light and there were likely more perpetrators than Correa, so the question becomes why did the league act in the manner that they did? The answer is simple and has always been the same; publicity and money.

The MLB stretched this investigation out as long as possible to keep it from dominating the news the way Spygate or Deflategate did. The Cardinals are one of the most respected teams in baseball, and the MLB wants to keep it that way. I can't imagine how the media, and thus the MLB, would have reacted to this story had it been the Yankees at fault. They were able to sign Dexter Fowler as a free agent back in December, knowing that they would lose their first round pick if they signed him. Many could speculate that the Cardinals more aggressively pursued free agents with qualifying offers attached because of the fact that they knew they were likely going to lose their first round pick anyway.

And at the end of the day, the Cardinals were of-course punished in a season when they didn't have a first-round pick, conveniently one year removed from the draft in which they had three first-round picks. The Cardinals were able to sign Dexter Fowler as a free agent back in December, perhaps knowing that they would losefirst-roundt round pick if they signed him. Many could speculate that the Cardinals more aggressively pursued free agents with qualifying offers attached because of the fact that they knew they were likely going to lose their first pick anyway.

Given the severity of the crime, it's disappointing the MLB was so lenient and forgiving in their punishment of the St. Louis Cardinals. It sets a dangerously low precedent for the rest of the league, and is another painful reminder how bureacratic professional sports have become.

It’s both one of the biggest cheating scandals in sports history and one of the most underreported stories in sports history. It is nearly impossible that Correa truly acted alone, yet the Cardinals will walk away relatively unscathed from this whole mess.

While most say that they're glad it's all over with, it is always important to examine how the case was handled to make sure that extreme cases like this one are never repeated.


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