FBI Investigates St. Louis Cardinals for Breaking into Astro’s Database

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 13, 2015

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The FBI and the US Justice Department are investigating the St. Louis Cardinals for infiltrating the computer network of the rival Houston Astros, as reported by the New York Times.

This is believed to be the first case of alleged business espionage involving professional sports teams.

According to the Times,

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.

Moneyball

HackingLuhnow was reportedly a proponent of the statistics-based “Moneyball” method of baseball management.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is a 2003 book by Michael Lewis about the Oakland Athletics baseball team and its general manager, Billy Beane.

Beane used a “sabremetric” approach. The term derives from SABR, which stands for the Society for American Baseball Research.

Sabremetrics is defined in The Sabremetric Manifesto as “the search for objective knowledge about baseball.” 

The premise of Moneyball is that the collective wisdom of baseball professionals about how to judge player value was wrong, and that different methods of statistical analysis could be used to find and recruit players undervalued by the market.

By applying this new analysis, the A’s were able to reach the playoffs in 2002 and 2003, despite having only about 1/3 the player budget of teams like the New York Yankees.

The best-selling book was made into a hit movie starring Brad Pitt (as Beane) and Jonah Hill. It was also parodied in a Simpson’s episode called “MoneyBART.”

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Trade Secrets

The Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA) defines a trade secret as: 

  • information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process,
  • that derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to or readily ascertainable through appropriate means by other persons who might obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and
  • is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.

The UTSA has been adopted, sometimes with modifications, by 40 US states and the District of Columbia.

Most trade secret theft cases are civil disputes, in which one company sues another for alleged theft of its secrets.

However, in some circumstances trade secret theft can also be a federal crime.  

Moneyball – the Sequel?

While Luhnow was still with the Cardinals, the team created a computer network to manage team statistics.

Luhnow built a similar system when he went to work for the Astros.

According to the Times:

Investigators believe that Cardinals personnel, 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 when they worked for the Cardinals. The Cardinals employees are believed to have used those passwords to gain access to the Astros’ network, law enforcement officials said.

If you’re concerned about trade secret theft…

One way to protect against trade secret theft is to use good “password hygiene.” Among other things, don’t allow employees to use passwords they used in previous jobs.

If you want to know more about trade secret theft, you may wish to consult an intellectual property attorney in your area.

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