In the mid-1990s the WWE (then known as the WWF) gave the fresh-faced Dwayne Johnson, who they dubbed "Rocky Maivia," a push. Maivia was sold to professional wrestling fans as the latest pro wrestler from a family rich in pro-wrestling tradition and pushed as a traditional baby face. However, the fans didn’t buy into Maivia and turned on the young man WWE brass had earmarked for superstardom. In response to the boos that accompanied Maivia to the ring, the WWE performed a bit of pro-wrestling judo. They booked Maivia for a full heel turn. The familial name Maivia and the "y" were dropped, and article was added, and The Rock was born. The rest, as they say, is history.
Sometime over the last 15 years, baseball fans turned on the St. Louis Cardinals. Fans began to bristle at the organization painted by the national baseball commentariat (including St. Louis products Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, the FOX national broadcast team) as a baby-faced paragon of Midwestern Values with a following that constituted the "best fans in baseball." Then there was The Cardinal Way, a boringly simple set of general operating principles for those within the organization that morphed into something else, something moral. All of this fed the blowback.
Against this backdrop the Cards signed proven PED cheater Jhonny Peralta to start at shortstop. General manager John Mozeliak responded to criticism of the signing (often by individuals pointing to the nauseating moralistic tone of The Cardinal Way) by stating that the Cardinals were not the MLB moral police. It was an assertion more realpolitik than Midwest Nice. Mozeliak cracked the door on the Cardinals making a heel turn.
A report in today’s New York Times has kicked that door down, splintering whatever auspices of morality that might have once been intertwined with The Cardinal Way of management. The F.B.I. is investigating members of the St. Louis front office for committing a federal crime by hacking the Astros’ proprietary network that contains information regarding players within the Houston system. Like the Patriots before them, the Cardinals have turned full heel. Unlike New England, however, it appears that members of the Cardinals front office crossed the line into criminality.
The Times article must be read in its entirety. It’s that juicy. Right now, the F.B.I. has not filed any charges or released any indication that there exists sufficient information to pin wrongdoing on any individual member of the St. Louis front office. It’s unclear at present how far up this goes. Such information will likely come out if the F.B.I.’s investigation results in criminal charges.
According to the Times:
Law enforcement officals 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 within the Cardinals until 2011.
Some more morsels from the article:
- Thinking that your typical hackers were to blame, MLB made the F.B.I. aware of the hack after the sensitive internal information regarding Houston’s discussions with other teams regarding trades were made public.
- The hack was "unsophisticated" in nature.
- Members of the Cardinals front office apparently used a master list of passwords for St. Louis employees that included those used by individuals who had since left with Luhnow to work for Houston in order to gain access to the Astros’ database, "Ground Control."
- MLB is aware of the F.B.I. investigation, is cooperating with it, and will likely wait to punish anyone until after the conclusion of said investigation.
- MLB has not yet disciplined any Cardinals employee regarding the events that gave rise to the F.B.I. investigation.
- This is the first known instance of corporate espionage in professional sports.
Again, I’ll reiterate that folks should read the whole Times article.
So it appears that the pettiness that created a schism within the St. Louis front office after Bill DeWitt Jr.’s hiring of Luhnow that ultimately resulted in the termination of former Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty turned into vengefulness toward Luhnow after he left for Houston. This resulted in hacking the Houston system, gaining access to sensitive internal information, and leaking it online—all in an effort to make life difficult for Luhnow. One wonders whether these individuals had any inkling that what they were doing was a violation of federal law.
Even if the F.B.I. investigation does not result in criminal charges against any member of the Cardinals front office, the taint of corporate espionage has now stained The Cardinal Way. I doubt that the Cardinals will embrace their unpopularity with a full heel turn on par with The Rock’s. After all, WWE Attitude Era antics run contrary to DeWitt’s sensibilities and represent the antithesis of the current St. Louis brand. Also, we're talking about criminal activity. Here in the real world, the Cardinals aren’t going to turn this black mark on the organization and its rich baseball history into a gimmick to sell t-shirts. This is not sports entertainment. Nor is it a laughing matter.
We’ll have more on these serious allegations and their ramifications as information becomes available.
Author's Note: I published this post and then proofread it in an effort to get my hot take out there. Substantively, it's the same post as was initially published. I just re-organized it in a few places.