The case of compromised Houston Astros player intel is a federal investigation, not a baseball probe says MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
That does not mean he can not hand down sanctions more information comes to light about whether St. Louis Cardinals employees hacked a personnel database belonging to the Astros.
For decades, baseball leadership handed discipline the players and management of the figures for all sorts of reasons. But industrial espionage via computer is a relatively new threat to the integrity of the game, very different facts, such as steal pitching signs or pine tar. There is no real precedent that might indicate how baseball will handle this matter, and for now, Manfred seems content to let the criminal investigation lead the way.
Major League Baseball said it will evaluate additional steps after federal law enforcement officers complete their investigation. A person familiar with the investigation told the AP that federal authorities are looking into whether the Cardinals were responsible for what Major League Baseball a “violation” of the Astros database.
Laws that may apply in the situation under the Computer Fraud and abuse law and the law on industrial espionage, said Chip Pitts, a law school professor at Stanford. Pitts said that it is important for the authorities to determine whether this is a case of the steal company secrets, or if there were other motives for the possible violation.
With sports franchises are increasingly dependent on data and technology, Pitts said the criminal investigation, an attempt to break out of a cyber war, helping to prevent any team in danger. Any penalties, he said, would have a deterrent effect.
“Criminal sanctions in our society – and all societies around the world – have a greater social stigma,” Pitts said. “It’s important that we talk about criminal sanctions.”
With a union representing the players, baseball has a formal policy on things like drug suspensions. But when it comes to disciplining management employees, the commissioner has authority to take in some baseball action as it deems necessary.
New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was 15 months after pleading guilty to conspiring to make illegal contributions to the re-election of President Richard Nixon suspended. The 1974 suspension came three months after the guilty plea.
Steinbrenner was also banned for 2 1/2 years, beginning in 1990, for paying self-described gambler Howie Spira to obtain negative information on outfielder Dave Winfield. Spira served nearly two years in prison for extortion in connection with the scandal.
The issues in these cases were much different than what Manfred faces now, though both involved judicial investigations and proceedings.
Or investigating the Cardinals results in criminal convictions, can baseball big question is whether anyone employed by the team affected competitive environment of the sport.
Although Manfred has so far delayed the enforcement, Pitts said he suspects baseball takes this issue very seriously.
“I bet they start thinking about – how widespread is this problem,” he said.
AP sports writer Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this report.