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.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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