St. Louis Cardinals

DeWitt: Cardinals ‘tainted ... by roguish behavior’

Bill DeWitt Jr., left, with then-Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and then-Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols at the St. Louis Baseball Writers Dinner in 2008.
Bill DeWitt Jr., left, with then-Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and then-Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols at the St. Louis Baseball Writers Dinner in 2008. News-Democrat

St. Louis Cardinals executives said again Thursday they had no prior knowledge of allegations that team employees had hacked the computer files of the Houston Astros, but acknowledged the franchise has been tainted by an FBI probe into “roguish behavior” by team employees taking part in the scheme.

“I had no knowledge either before the alleged time frame that there was some interest in another club’s website ... or subsequent to that fact ...,” principal team owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said.

“There was zero knowledge until the FBI launched their investigation and we became aware of it.”

DeWitt and Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak spoke to reporters in a press conference in DeWitt’s private boardroom Thursday afternoon at Busch Stadium.

They said:

▪  A team investigation into the hacking reports was ongoing, along with a separate FBI probe

▪  Club officials had cooperated with the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s investigation into the matter

▪  Team management had been sharing information with the commissioner’s office regarding the matter.

DeWitt said he, Mozeliak and other members of Cardinals management met with several hundred club employees earlier Thursday.

“I said we’ve all been tainted in some way by this, what I’ll refer to as roguish behavior by an individual, or a couple of individuals, or — we don’t know the extent of it,” DeWitt said. “The size of our operation, to have one or two or three — I don’t know, I’m not suggesting I have any concept of who was involved here, or how many — but it’s certainly a needle in the haystack when it comes to the scope of our operation.”

The allegations of wrongdoing came to light in a report Tuesday in The New York Times, which indicated the Cardinals front-office personnel were trying to steal closely guarded Astros information about player personnel. Legal experts told The Washington Post that those employees could face prison time if convicted of computer espionage.

Investigators have uncovered evidence that Cardinals employees broke into a network of the Astros that housed special databases the team had built, according to law enforcement officials. Internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports were compromised, the officials said.

Reports have indicated the tampering may have taken place at a computer in a residence in Jupiter, Fla., where team employees stay during spring training.

“The Cardinal culture has always been, and continues to be, one that values high integrity, honesty, commitment to excellence, openness with our fans, our partners, our business partners, the industry, MLB, other teams,” DeWitt said, referring to handwritten notes in front of him. “And we’ve made every effort to be good partners and do what is best for the industry. But everybody within in that industry wants to win, and they all want to win equally. And we are very competitive in wanting to win as well. ...

“So you can imagine how shocked I was to learn that the FBI was investigating a potential breach of the Astros secure player network by a (Cardinals) employee or someone with access to Cardinal computers. Because it didn’t make any sense to me. ... It kind of shocked me that someone would consider doing that. I still don’t know a reason for it; I can’t come up with a reason for it.”

Because of the continuing investigations, DeWitt said he couldn’t comment on what action might be taken against any employee found to be part of the hacking scheme.

“We don’t want to speculate on what punitive action might be taken,” DeWitt said. “We’ve clearly found some things in the internal investigation, and we’ve dealt with that. And we’ll continue to deal with it. We don’t know who did what here. If it’s as simple as someone went in there and breached their website ... certainly that person would be no longer a Cardinal employee.”

Houston General Manager Jeff Luhnow said in June 2014 that the team had been the victim of hackers who accessed servers and published months of internal trade talks on the Internet.

Sports Editor Todd Eschman: Don't rush to judgment

“It was an illegal activity and we’re going to pursue it and try and find out who did it and prosecute,” Luhnow said at the time, noting that the team was working with the FBI and Major League Baseball security to determine who was responsible for the breach.

On Thursday a subdued Mozeliak, wearing a necktie instead of his trademark bow tie, used the word “frightening” to describe the hacking scheme.

“We have created, on the baseball operations side, a lot of autonomy to let people do their jobs and have some ownership of it,” said Mozeliak, the team’s GM since the end of the 2007 season. “And then to find out that maybe something like that has occurred, or is alleged, it’s disappointing.

“The more you learn about it, it’s a little frightening, too. ... As we’re learning and as we’re growing with it, it’s created a frustration and a disappointment that’s certainly alive and well right now.”

The Astros rely heavily on sabermetrics in their evaluation of players and have been open about the fact that they use an online database to house their proprietary information. Luhnow has said other teams store data about players and trades online.

Joe Ostermeier is chairman of the St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America and has written about the Cardinals for the News-Democrat since 1985. He can be reached at 618-239-2512 or at jostermeier@bnd.com Follow him on Twitter: @JoeOstermeier.

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