The Justice Department allegedly knows not only the culprits in the hacking of Houston Astros computers, they know the motive, too.
Sources close to the investigation of the alleged St. Louis Cardinals break-in of the Houston Astros database say that those responsible for the hacking attempted to embarrass Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, formerly an executive with the Cardinals.
One source told Sports Illustrated, “The motivation, especially having the information published, seems to have been to embarrass him.” Another source who had no knowledge of the investigation’s data but knew baseball well told SI, “There are people with the Cardinals who think Luhnow took credit for a lot of the things St. Louis has been doing for years. It wouldn’t be surprising that any chance they would have to embarrass him, they would take it.” The New York Times reported that Cardinals’ personnel were prompted by concern that Luhnow had taken their idea and proprietary baseball information when he left their team for the Astros.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals stated, “The St. Louis Cardinals are aware of the investigation into the security breach of the Houston Astros’ database. The team has fully cooperated with the investigation and will continue to do so. Given that this is an ongoing federal investigation, it is not appropriate for us to comment further.”
Luhnow has had a target on his back for years, challenging the established baseball hierarchy by championing the ideas promulgated by Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s, relying on mathematical data to make personnel decisions. St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., who had read Beane’s story in Moneyball, first hired him in 2003. DeWitt said, “I wanted to make sure we were cutting-edge on all fronts and thought having someone from the outside would give us a fresh look.”
After his hiring as a consultant, Luhnow hired a NASA engineer to give him a hand analyzing data. Their presence apparently annoyed other executives in the organization, used to making decisions the old-fashioned way. The critics nicknamed Luhnow “Harry Potter” and “the accountant.”
Eventually, DeWitt named Luhnow the head of the Cardinals’ scouting department, which caused general manager Walt Jocketty to leave. Luhnow achieved spectacular results. In the seven years he ran amateur scouting, the Cardinals saw more draft picks make it to the big leagues than any other team.
Luhnow left the Cardinals in 2011 to become general manager of the Astros, who had finished the 2010 season 56-106, the worst record in their history. Owner Jim Crane gave free rein to Luhnow, who informed him that if he could bear a couple of horrendous seasons, the Astros could use more money to stock the farm system, the analytics staff, and baseball academies in the Dominican Republic that Luhnow’s staff thought could bear fruit. Crane agreed, commenting, “You get beat up on ESPN. Everyone’s an expert who will give you their opinion. But I can take the heat.”
Even with the Astros $27 million payroll plunging to the bottom of the league, Luhnow traded away much of the roster for prospects, dipping their payroll to $13 million by the end of the season. Buster Olney of ESPN blasted, “The perception in the industry is that they tanked. When you run out a team with a $27 million payroll, you’re essentially designing your team to fail. There’s no chance you avoid colossal, record-setting losses, which is exactly what they got.” The Houston Chronicle featured an article titled, “Radical Methods Paint Astros as ‘Outcast.’”
Luhnow and his team have instituted changes on the field as well, championing defensive shifts against more batters and implementing a tandem rotation in spring training in which two starters throw four or five innings in succession, rather than each starter throwing seven or more. That process enabled the Astros to see more pitchers and enable them to find pitchers they might have missed.
Luhnow may well get the last laugh at his detractors. The Astros, at 38-28, currently own the best record in the American League. Who boasts the best record in the National League? The St. Louis Cardinals.