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TCN Blog 2015 Top Story #5: The FBI Investigation

The St. Louis Cardinals – one of Major League Baseball’s most successful and respected franchises – suffered a huge embarrassment on the national stage with the June 16 disclosure by the New York Times that the club was (and months later, still is) being investigated by the FBI.

The suspected crime was the illegal, repeated access of the Houston Astros’ internal baseball operations system.

Though the actions began earlier, the incidents first came into the public light in June 2014 when Astros internal memos regarding trade negotiations were anonymously published online in what appeared to be an attempt to embarrass team officials.

The Federal investigation confirmed the link to the Cardinals via traced access to the Houston system from a residence used by Cardinals officials during spring training. FBI agents searched that location, interviewed assistant general manager Michael Girsch and seized computers from team offices in St. Louis this February, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

After the New York Times broke the story, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt, Jr. met with the press. He said that he became aware of the matter about the time of the February searches and the team was cooperating with investigators. A Cardinals-hired attorney said that neither DeWitt nor general manager John Mozeliak were targets of the Federal inquiries. The team had also launched its own internal investigation, the findings of which were characterized by both DeWitt and the lawyer as “roguish behavior.”

Three weeks after leading the team’s efforts in the First-Year Player Draft – his primary job responsibility – Cardinals Director of Scouting Chris Correa was fired. The 35-year-old had been placed on leave of absence prior to his July 2nd dismissal, but only for a very short period of time.

The team executive allegedly admitted accessing the Astros’ database, but only to determine if former Cardinals employees had stolen his team’s intellectual property. A number of ex-St. Louis staffers with familiarity of the Cardinals internal systems had joined the Astros in recent years, including Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow. The Post-Dispatch added that Correa reportedly did not inform his bosses of his findings at the time.

Though the team’s investigation labeled the actions “roguish,” Correa was not a low-level employee, but was among their top young executives. Highly educated and a fast-riser, the former director of baseball development had just been promoted to his scouting leadership role last December, reporting to Mozeliak and receiving direction from Girsch.

Through his lawyer, Correa specifically denied involvement with the public leaking of the Astros’ memos that had occurred during the summer of 2014.

That means one of two things – either Correa is lying or he was not a “rogue,” and more people were involved.

Which one of the two remains unclear, as there has been no news released about the investigation for months. Though the Post-Dispatch reported earlier that at least four Cardinals employees had hired counsel, to this point, no further suspensions or dismissals have come to light and no one, including Correa, has been charged with a crime.

Independent of the Federal findings, penalties from Major League Baseball are possibly ahead. Even if the Cardinals top leaders were unaware, the lack of institutional control (to borrow a commonly-used term by NCAA investigators) would seem to suggest that some type of punishment is warranted. What form that may take is only speculation, as there is no precedence for what may range from, depending on your point of view, alleged theft of intellectual property to team-vs.-team industrial espionage.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has stated that he is waiting for the Federal investigation to reach its conclusion before deciding how this matter should be addressed. It may be a bit of a ticklish situation. DeWitt was a major supporter of Manfred’s 2014 candidacy for MLB’s top office and was the only member of the eight-owner Executive Council under former commissioner Bud Selig to be retained by Manfred.

Footnote: On September 1, Mozeliak formally announced ex-Cardinals relief pitcher Randy Flores as Correa’s replacement.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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15 Responses to “TCN Blog 2015 Top Story #5: The FBI Investigation”

  1. blingboy says:

    I have the feeling that everyone wishes this would go away.

    • crdswmn says:

      Everyone that is involved with/is a fan of the Cardinals wishes it would go away. The Cardinal haters wish much harm to befall the Cardinals, including for some, dissolution of the team entirely. That is a ridiculous notion and is not going to happen, but there are some who want that.

      It will come to a conclusion of some sort eventually, of this we can all be certain.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    I am unpersuaded that either Correa is lying or he was not a rogue. Sherlock would not infer this.
    Several people can engage in a rogue or unauthorized behavior. The potential for another rogue does not make the behavior authorized.
    It seems possible Correa is off his rocker. This would make him more confused than a conscious liar. The idea he was investigating the Astros is very strange. This has been his actual defense. The cards were not paying him to do industrial espionage, so he got the heave ho.
    The June 2014 leak to deadspin was pretty lame. Hard to know what that was supposed to accomplish.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      The FNI has many more important things to do than this nonsense. its by no means clear correa committed any crime. Getting sacked does not prove he broke a law. This will fade away.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Rogue did not fit there. More appropriate to simply say he was either lying or multiple people were involved.

      I don’t think it will fade away. Because of its visibility, someone will ensure that if the probe is dropped that the investigators admit it.

  3. blingboy says:

    By everyone I meant Cards, Astros and MLB.

    It is not clear that anyone stole any proprietary info. If someone did, it seems as likely it was from one team as the other.

    These are computer/stat Ivy League geeks rather than baseball people. They just did what they do. Whether the landscape is MLB or Wall Street or anything else. The baseball people have already learned the lesson that needed to be learned going forward. Hopefully, the Feds understand that these types can do more real harm in other settings and will go on about their business.

    Mo, not being a baseball player himself, didn’t see the danger. He does now, and hired a player to take Correa’s seat.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Not sure that Mo would appreciate your re-write of his biography. (It would be great if you could dial down the sweeping generalizations a bit.)

      Went to see the movie The Big Short the other night. Lost what tiny faith I had left in government to properly regulate anything, let alone Wall Street.

      • blingboy says:

        Yeah, I get carried away. There are more people without baseball backgrounds in the game in important roles than ever before. They do what they do: finance, stats, computers, whatever. Baseball or buggy whips makes no difference.

        • crdswmn says:

          And yet those folks you hold so much contempt for are a big part of the reason that the Cardinals have been a winning franchise for the last decade.

          I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that some people can’t see the forest for the trees? Might be something you should think more about before you make your “sweeping generalizations” and regale us with your sardonic witticisms.

          • blingboy says:

            I decline to venerate, which is not the same as contempt. They do what they do, which is the same whatever business they are in. I think that they also do not factor in those aspects of human nature which cannot be neatly quantified, so there is a lot about reality that they do not appreciate. The result is that the way things are in virtual land is not always the same as the way things are in real life land. I keep that in mind, which is not the same as contempt.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Big Government created the property bubble. BG constrained bond market ratings to three firms, limiting competition and promoting lousy ratings. Uncle Sam promoted big loans at subsidized low rates thru Fannie mae and Freddie mac. Bill Clinton and mr Rubin eroded the barrier between commercial and investment banks. Franks and Dodd spewed out reporting and costs, doing nothing to help the economy. And I am supposed to believe the FBI should and can investigate the Cardinals?

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