Manfred Drops The Ball in Cardinals Hacking Scandal
Ever since the hacking scandal and the punishment was announced by Rob Manfred, many have shared their opinions on if it was too harsh, too light, or just right. Here is an opinion from one Astros fan, who has a background in legal matters.
Article submitted by Thomas Singleton
Rob Manfred has faced some unprecedented scandals in his first two years as Commissioner of Major League Baseball. Perhaps none are as baffling as the saga that played out between the Houston Astros and the St. Louis Cardinals. In the wake of former Cardinals’ scouting director Chris Correa’s sentence of 46-months in prison, and a $300,000 fine, many were interested to see how MLB would respond to this controversy. After a year of waiting, judgement was finally passed down on Monday, Jan. 30th. Manfred’s decision to transfer two second round picks, and $2 million to the Astros has been both applauded and maligned. It is safe to say, critics and supporters of the punishment are happy to see an end to the grueling two-year saga. But some feel that this will not be a sufficient deterrent to organizations looking to gain the upper hand in an era defined by information, and analytics.
Following Correa’s trial, it became clear that the Cardinals’ organization knowingly supported their former scout in his actions. Under oath Correa admitted to accessing the Astros’ database, and bringing the information he found to the upper management of the Cardinals’ organization. This information even led to Correa’s promotion to Cardinals Scouting Director. Correa went on to access the Astros’ database 48 times between 2013 and 2014. With this information, the Cardinals gained an unfair advantage in putting together their draft strategy, free agent offers, and trade packages.
For more than two years the Cardinals, one of baseball’s most successful and historic teams, took advantage of the scouting information of the Astros, a team who was regularly fielding historically bad line-ups until recently. This kind of predatory behavior spits in the face of MLB’s core values. As an organization, MLB must promote parity and competition between all of its member franchises. By carrying out, and condoning, this act of corporate espionage, the Cardinals have undermined the very foundation of MLB’s competition. That is why it has been so important to see how Manfred would react to this attack on the governing principles of America’s pastime.
After Manfred’s announcement on Jan. 30th, we can unequivocally say that he has failed in this test. By allowing Correa’s punishment to be far more severe than anything levied against the Cardinals’ organization, Manfred has signaled that the responsibility for an MLB team’s participation in corporate espionage can be scapegoated on a convenient employee. By waiting to hand down the punishment more than a year after Correa’s sentencing, Manfred has allowed the Cardinals to place themselves in an advantageous position.
In June 2016, the Cardinals possessed three first-round picks in the MLB draft. This draft took place almost 3 months after Correa’s sentencing, and more than 6 months after Correa plead guilty to the charges. Revoking any of those picks, in conjunction with the monetary penalty, would have been a far more fitting punishment than the paltry decision handed down in January. Similarly, the Cardinals forfeited a first round pick this year when they signed Dexter Fowler. This move is unusual for the Cardinals who generally are adverse to big free agent signings. It would seem that the Cardinals were looking to cash in on their picks before they were punished for their lack of institutional control.
Anyone paying attention to the sports world this last year knows that the Astros-Cardinals hacking scandal was overshadowed by a much more sinister problem. Not the FIFA corruption scandals, not the NFL’s CTE controversy, and not the MLB’s hall of fame steroid era. No, this scandal was overshadowed by the specter of Tom Brady’s Deflategate. A controversy that revolved around slightly underinflated footballs. This was a scandal so threatening, Roger Goodell felt it necessary to suspend Tom Brady for four games, fine Robert Kraft $1 million, and forfeit the Patriots’ 2016 first round pick, and a 2017 fourth round pick. Looking at the punishment handed down by Goodell in comparison to Manfred’s decision, you might think that the Cardinals only spilled the Astros’ beer, or insulted their cooking.
The severity of the Cardinals’ punishment in no way signals that they might have knowingly allowed an employee to hack into a rival’s database, steal proprietary information, and unfairly benefit from that information for more than two years while placing the rest of the league at a disadvantage in player acquisition and competitiveness. By waiting more than a year after Correa plead guilty in a court of law, and two years from when the scandal broke, Rob Manfred and MLB have showed us that they are willing to sweep problems under the rug for their favorite franchises. Further, by refusing to punish the Cardinals by taking away future picks, they’ve shown us that a team can get away with anything as long as they have someone to throw under the bus.
As a life-long Astros fan, I must admit I am biased. Throughout my childhood the Cardinals regularly beat us up and took our lunch money. I have nursed a special hatred of the Cardinals almost as long as I’ve been going to Astros games. But biases aside, anyone can see that the punishment handed down by MLB following this scandal is both pandering, and suspect. Clearly, a punishment had to be levied. However, MLB’s decision to wait until the most convenient time to decide to take the Cardinals’ “top two picks” stinks to high heaven.
A year after the notoriously slow court system decided Chris Correa’s fate, the commissioner of Major League Baseball decided to hand down a punishment so watered down you could call it Bud Light. With Manfred still early in his time as Commissioner, we can only hope that this flavor of scandal will be few and far between. It will be interesting to see how cheating develops in the increasingly technology dependent world of baseball. With Manfred at the helm, we can only hope Correa’s harsh prison sentence will be enough of a deterrent. In uncertain times we can be certain of this much, at MLB headquarters the bar has been set low.
**Photo Credit: Getty Images**