Hacking Scandal Rocks Major League Baseball

Thomas Ujj

Thomas Ujj

February 2, 2017

When it comes to hacking, professional sports probably isn’t the first industry that comes to mind. Government institutions, big corporations, or even the average PC user tend to make the headlines when it comes to hacking.

Well, it seems these assumptions about hacking are now invalid! Big news broke this week that a professional baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals, have been caught hacking another team, the Houston Astros.

Yes, folks – the threat of hacking applies to nearly anything – even America’s favorite pastime!

What Happened?

Major League Baseball’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, is giving the Cardinals a strict penalty. The Cardinals have to forfeit their first two draft selections and have to pay $2 million in reparations to the Astros.

This penalty is a result of an extensive investigation by the MLB. The process began after Cardinals scouting director Christopher Correa was sent to prison last July for 46 months on 12 counts of corporate espionage.

Correa has also been banned from baseball for life, joining Pete Rose (gambling) and Jenrry Mejia (drugs) as the only people currently banned from the sport entirely.

Baseball athletes banned for life

The database held all of the Astros’ scouting information as well as the team’s entire email system. Considering the competitive nature of the MLB, and the importance of data in sports, it’s easy to see why this is such a big deal.

Professional sports teams have entire analytics and scouting departments that gather valuable data on prospects the team is following. Getting the leg-up on your competitor’s research could allow a team to steal prospective players that an opponent is currently scouting.

Was Correa Acting Alone?

Official court documents state that Correa accessed the database 48 different times, beginning in January 2012 and going on for two and a half years. Correa’s defense was that he “wanted to see if the Astros had stolen anything from the Cardinals.”

Considering Correa accessed the database at such a high rate over an extended period, it is quite hard to agree with this defense. It almost seems the kind of rationalization children use when they are caught with a hand in the cookie jar.

Of course, the amount of “real hacking” that Correa did is debatable, as he simply obtained a password to the database from a former (unnamed) colleague. This individual left the Cardinals to join the Astros in 2013. It is disappointing to see information omitted about how Correa obtained this password and if anyone else was involved.

Of course, the Cardinals denied any knowledge of what was going on, even though a 2013 scouting report by the Astros on pitcher Marco Gonzales did catch Correa’s attention.

Guess what? The team ended up drafting Gonzales, and he has been with the team since. Even better, Gonzales is enjoying life as the seventh-best prospect on the team (out of dozens).

Whether or not this is an indication of further involvement on behalf of the Cardinals remains to be seen.

Hacking and Sports: Here to Stay?

The public might never know the full truth (until the inevitable Christopher Correa autobiography release) behind the Cardinals’ involvement. Regardless, this landmark case serves as an important reminder of the security threats facing people today.

As we continue to see an increasing use of technology in sports, cases such as these remind us that nothing is safe from the threat of hacking.

Of course, the other big issue here is teams, or even entire leagues, sweeping these incidents under the rug. Incidents such as these are similar to big corporations and government agencies being reluctant to announce a security flaw.

Increasing transparency and being straightforward with the public are ways that organizations such as MLB can avoid embarrassment in the future.

What do you think? Is this case just the start for hacking in sports? Was this just a business move by an individual looking to get ahead of the competition? Share any comments you might have below!

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