ST. LOUIS — Federal law enforcement authorities are investigating whether the St. Louis Cardinals illegally accessed the Houston Astros’ computer database to obtain information on players, a person familiar with the situation said Tuesday.
The New York Times first reported that the FBI and Justice Department were investigating whether Cardinals’ front-office officials were behind the effort to steal information from the Astros’ database, called Ground Control. MLB, law enforcement officials and the two teams have not disclosed details of the investigation.
“Major League Baseball has been aware of and has fully cooperated with the federal investigation into the illegal breach of the Houston Astros’ baseball operations database,” a league spokesman wrote in a statement. “Once the investigative process has been completed by federal law enforcement officials, we will evaluate the next steps and will make decisions promptly.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred said subpoenas have been issued, though he did not provide details.
“There are legal problems associated with federal law enforcement officials seeking cooperation from private individuals,” Manfred said. “If the federal government wants information from us, they would subpoena information, and that’s what they’ve done.”
Messages seeking comment from FBI offices in Washington, Houston and St. Louis were not returned. The U.S. attorney in St. Louis, Richard Callahan, said he was unaware of the investigation.
The Cardinals are among baseball’s most successful franchises. Only the New York Yankees have won more World Series titles than St. Louis, which has won 11 championships and is among the best-drawing teams in all of sports, with annual attendance topping three million people every year since 2003.
The Astros and Cardinals were rivals in the National League’s Central Division until Houston moved to the American League in 2012. The Astros hired former Cardinals scouting and player development executive Jeff Luhnow as general manager in December 2011, and he has helped lead turn the team from a laughingstock into a contender.
The Astros finished 70-92 and fourth in the AL West a year ago, ending a woeful streak of three consecutive 100-loss seasons. They are currently in first place in the AL West and improved to 37-28 on Tuesday afternoon with an 8-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many Cardinals employees were under investigation, or whether top front office officials were possibly aware of the activities.
“Then there’s the question of who did it,” Manfred told reporters in Boston. “Who knew about it? Is the organization responsible? Is the individual responsible? There’s a whole set of issues that are needed to be sorted through.”
The Cardinals and Astros said they were cooperating with the investigation but declined further comment. Astros manager A.J. Hinch said his team would focus on baseball.
“Obviously, from the baseball perspective, we’ll deal with the baseball and all other questions will go elsewhere,” Hinch said.
His counterpart in St. Louis, Mike Matheny, sounded a similar tone and said the case at this point wouldn’t be a distraction for his first-place Cardinals, who have the best record in baseball. He said he’d been unaware of the investigation until he “got pulled out of the weight room” on Tuesday morning.
“We have opportunities for distraction every day” he said. “It’s part of what we do, it’s a big part of what we do. We divide them into the controllables and the uncontrollables and this is one of the uncontrollables. We don’t have any clue what’s going on.”
Luhnow, who was not permitted by the team to speak to reporters in Houston on Tuesday, said in June 2014 that the team had been the victim of hackers who accessed servers and published months of internal trade talks on the Internet.
“It was an illegal activity and we’re going to pursue it and try and find out who did it and prosecute,” Luhnow said at the time, noting that the Astros were working with the FBI and MLB security to determine who was responsible for the breach.
The Astros rely heavily on sabermetrics in their evaluation of players and have been open about the fact that they use an online database to house their proprietary information. Last year, the Houston Chronicle wrote a detailed report on Ground Control, noting the team even had a director of decision sciences and that everything from statistics to contract information to scouting reports were stored at a web address protected by a password.
Manfred downplayed wider security concerns about MLB’s digital systems.
“We have a technology company that quite literally is the envy of companies throughout America — not just sports enterprises,” the commissioner said. “We routinely make the resources of MLB Advanced Media available to all of the clubs. We have the type of security arrangements that are necessary.”
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