What does FBI probe into Cardinals’ cyber activity mean for Cubs?

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Whether the FBI ultimately can do to the St. Louis Cardinals what the Cubs and Pirates have not, life in the National League Central took on a heightened sense of intrigue Tuesday with reports that the Cardinals are under federal investigation for last year’s cyber-attack on the Houston Astros.

“Crazy,” said Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler, who played last season for the Astros.

Crazy, and damning to the reputation of a so-called “model organization” and its self-proclaimed Cardinals Way, if the initial FBI findings reported by the New York Times are true.

It would be a first in professional sports, a targeted team-on-team hacking of proprietary information – including scouting reports and trade conversations – far exceeding the level of any “Spygate” or “Deflategate” scandals.

Until the Times report, many in the game — including some in the Astros’ organization — believed the hackers made targets of the Astros because of the team’s perceived arrogance over its high-tech team-building methods under fourth-year GM Jeff Luhnow, a former Cardinals player-development executive.

“Houston has so much data over there, I don’t think whoever hacked it would even know where to start,” Fowler said.

The Cubs, whose business department similarly courts public displays of affection from hand-picked media, are reputed — like the Astros — to use some of the game’s more advanced analytics in its baseball operations.

“I can’t believe that it happened,” said Cubs’ first-year hitting coach John Mallee, who served in that role for the Astros the past two years. “I could see from the outside, but not from another baseball team.”

The ramifications for the Cardinals are almost as hard to predict as the likelihood of wider cyber-transgressions in the multi-billion-dollar industry of professional sports with rapidly growing technical departments far removed from the field – in front offices looking for finer and finer analytical edges.

“I don’t have a response to that at this time,” Cubs team president Theo Epstein said. “We have a lot on our plate just with this organization. I’m not going to get into another organization’s business, but I’m glad it wasn’t us.”

The Cubs took a detailed look at their information systems a year ago when the Astros breach was first reported.

“We double-checked our security protocols. When I started working in baseball I never thought I’d utter those words,” said Epstein, who seemed to have a bounce in his step Tuesday when bantering with reporters – whether it had anything to do with the rival’s issues or the fact top prospect Kyle Schwarber was debuting.

“Yeah, we are changing our passwords from `gordonsucks’ to something else,” Epstein joked.

Talking to reporters in Boston Tuesday, commissioner Rob Manfred was vague when asked about potential penalties if the Cardinals are found guilty.

“It’s just too early [to know] what the facts are going to be and what action, if any, is necessary,” said Manfred, whose candidacy for commissioner was strongly supported by powerful Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt.

For baseball, the integrity implications are at least as large as the potential legal issues for one of its teams.

“We work hard to scout our own players and scout opposing players, and that’s personal information that we spend the time money and manpower on to accumulate,” Mallee said. “Nobody [else] has the right to have that.”

Mallee said Astros employees were all given new passwords and “codes” for accessing the team’s system after last year’s breach was discovered. No one in the organization suspected another team could be involved, he said.

That was discovered only after major league baseball enlisted the help of the FBI to investigate on behalf of the Astros, according to the Times report.

As a larger information-security issue in the industry, Epstein downplayed it as something every major company deals with.

“The guys doing our software are a thousand times smarter than I am,” he said. “They have all that covered. They definitely understand the importance of security.”

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