In the aftermath of yesterday’s shocking news that the FBI is investigating the St. Louis Cardinals for allegedly illegally accessing the Houston Astros’ computer network without authorization, many fans have begun to speculate as to what sort of penalty the Cardinals might face from Major League Baseball. MLB has already suggested that some form of punishment is forthcoming, issuing the following statement yesterday in response to the New York Times’ initial report:
Major League Baseball has been aware of and has fully cooperated with the federal investigation into the illegal breach of the Astros’ baseball operations database. Once the investigative process has been completed by federal law enforcement officials, we will evaluate the next steps and will make decisions promptly.
In particular, as others have noted, MLB’s reference to the incident as an “illegal breach” – as opposed to an “alleged” illegal breach – is especially noteworthy. MLB isn’t denying that employees of one of its teams may have illegally accessed the Astros’ computer network, nor is the league holding off judgment on the veracity of the reports until the federal investigation is complete. Instead, the league office is explicitly acknowledging that an illegal breach has occurred.
So the Cardinals are almost certainly facing some form of MLB-imposed punishment on top of any potential criminal charges the government may pursue. The question now is just what type of punishment MLB and Commissioner Manfred will seek to impose.
Given the unprecedented nature of the incident, initial speculation has ranged anywhere from a steep fine or the loss of draft picks to a potential postseason ban for the Cardinals. However, while Commissioner Manfred certainly has broad authority to govern the sport under his “best interests of baseball” powers, his authority – as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has learned in recent years – is not absolute. Instead, MLB’s league constitution and collective bargaining agreement both impose some real constraints on the commissioner’s ability to punish the Cardinals. Read the rest of this entry »