The Houston Astros general manager has been hacked.
Jeff Luhnow, who has the up-start Astros in first place in the AL West, made headlines for a different reason on Tuesday morning after reports surfaced that he had been the victim of an internal network hack. The hackers? The St. Louis Cardinals, Luhnow’s former team.
The New York Times reported that both the FBI and prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice are investigating the Cardinals and have served both the team and Major League Baseball with subpoenas.
Here’s what you need to know about the news-making hack and Luhnow’s part in it:
1. The New York Times Reported That the Cardinals Attempted to Steal Houston Player Personnel
The New York Times first reported the alleged hack on Tuesday morning, citing evidence uncovered by investigators that Cardinals officials broke into the Houston Astros internal network database. The database, per officials, housed internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports on upcoming players.
According to the Times report, the Justice Department has already subpoenaed the MLB and the Cardinals. The League issued a statement saying it has “been aware of and has fully cooperated with the federal investigation into the illegal breach of the Astros’ baseball operations database.”
The Cardinals, currently the best team in the NL, did not issue a statement and the officials under investigation have not been put on leave, suspended or fired.
2. Houston’s Internal Computer System Was Designed By Luhnow
The main focus of the investigation, according to the New York Times report, is surrounding the Houston Astros internal computer system, or Ground Control, and was originally designed by Luhnow.
Luhnow, a former management consultant, used his background to become a metaphorical wizard at working the MLB Draft. During his time in St. Louis, no MLB team had more picks make it to the show and when he moved to Houston in 2011, Luhnow’s first task was to fix the Astros woeful draft history. So he did and Ground Control was born. Ground Control is, for all intents and purposes, an expanded version of Moneyball, the tactic used by the Oakland Athletics in the early 2000s to work low payrolls into big-time rosters.
A 2014 Houston Chronicle article described the database as:
Contract information, scouting reports, statistics common and proprietary – the Astros have centralized most every piece of useful baseball information at one password-protected web address.
St. Louis had also used Luhnow’s “Moneyball” tactics when he worked for the franchise, a system called “Red Bird Dog” according to the Chronicle article. However, when Luhnow left the Cardinals for Houston four years ago, his system went with him. That didn’t create a lot of good will between the team and its former employee.
This isn’t the time Luhnow’s system has been breached. In June 2014, 10 months of internal trade talks showed up on a site called Anonbin, where users can anonymously post hacked or leaked information
3. He Worked in the Cardinals Scouting Department For Eight Years & Left for Houston in 2011
Luhnow joined the St. Louis front office in 2003 after previously working for McKinsey and Company, a global management consulting firm. He began work with the Cardinals as Vice President of Baseball Development and started a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. Luhnow also served as Vice President of Player Procurement and Vice President of Scouting and Player Development.
Luhnow left the Cardinals in 2011 to join the Houston Astros as the then-struggling team’s general manager. According to reports, including the Times story from Tuesday morning, animosity surrounding Luhnow’s departure from St. Louis may have originally sparked the Cardinals’ hack.
It is the first known case of corporate espionage in which one professional sports organization has infiltrated the network of another professional franchise.
4. Luhnow Staged a Major Rebuilding Project in Houston After He Was Named GM
The Houston Astros were a bad baseball team before Luhnow joined the fray in 2011. That’s why the general manager had the “luxury” of back-to-back-to-back No. 1 picks in 2012, 2013 and 2014. But as soon as Luhnow joined the franchise, he set out to change that.
Luhnow told MLB.com:
Nobody likes to lose, especially that many games. But we’re competitive in that we understand what the ultimate goal is, and that’s to win a championship. I think each year, we’re making progress toward that goal, and even though the results haven’t manifested themselves in the win-loss record at the big league level, we’re very well set up to deliver those results as soon as possible. That’s what being competitive is all about: crossing that finish line as soon as possible.
Luhnow’s goal was to bring up young players into the system as efficiently as possible and build a team that would find its foundation quickly. The Astros had 14 players make their MLB debut in 2014 and recently brought up 2012’s top pick Carlos Correa earlier this month.
5. The Astros Have Had One of MLB’s Most Successful Turn-Arounds Recently
This season has been something of an “I told you so” moment for Luhnow. He predicted a winning 2015 season in January and, right now, the Astros are the best team in the AL West and one of the best teams in all of baseball.
It’s been one of the biggest surprises in all of baseball. Starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel has been a legitimate CY Young candidate this season and waiver pickups like Collin McHugh have added a punch to Houston’s bullpen.
Of course there have been bumps in the road. The Astros hit a losing skid in mid May, part of the reason the team called Correa up in the first place, and injuries took a toll on the young roster. Still, Houston is one of the most intriguing teams in the entire league and a lot of that has to do with what Luhnow has done in the background. There’s a reason the organization gave him a 2014 contract extension.