ST. LOUIS — With the Cardinals embroiled in baseball’s biggest scandal, Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and General Manager John Mozeliak sat down for an interview with KMOV and other outlets in St. Louis.
Both men maintained they had no knowledge of the data breach prior to being informed of the FBI’s investigation of the club, and were stunned at the revelation.
“It just shocked me. I couldn’t believe it. Why would someone do that?” DeWitt said. “First of all, it’s stupid. Secondly, it’s illegal. Thirdly, we’ve got our own process here that’s very successful.”
The Cardinals, who are off to one of their best starts in franchise history, have been riding a decade of success largely due to that process.
In 2003 DeWitt brought in Jeff Luhnow, now the GM for the Houston Astros, aiming to reshape the organization’s talent identification and acquisition process.
“We started with a blank page. It was ‘build it from within, do it to Cardinal specifications, and have the Cardinals be a leader in this endeavor,” the chairman explained, saying the idea was to use ever-growing mountains of player date to rethink business practices. “I just felt to try to get ahead of the industry, we should be at the forefront of that process.”
Luhnow helped established Redbird Dog, a repository of the entirety of the club’s baseball knowledge. It included detailed stats, health reports, projections and proprietary system for evaluating player value.
The strategy was a radical shift from the existing traditional strategies of then-GM Walt Jocketty, who had held the position since 1994. DeWitt said Luhnow’s new direction led to a “culture clash,” and the club eventually ousted Jocketty in 2007 citing a divisiveness in baseball strategy. Mozeliak took the reins in 2007, and presided over a wildly successful run both on the field and in player acquisition. Luhnow became the Astros’ general manager in 2011.
Once in Houston, Luhnow established Ground Control, a similar information repository for the Astros to use as they rebuilt their listing franchise. The alleged friction caused in Luhnow’s early years, combined with the similarities between Ground Control and Redbird Dog led some to posit that the breach was an act of retaliation toward Luhnow, aimed at hindering his process, though neither DeWitt nor Mozeliak gave any indication there was lasting friction between the organization and their former employee.
“Employees do leave. They’re going to take with them some level of institutional knowledge. That’s just natural and it’s not something we concern ourselves with,” Mozeliak said. “Speaking from my seat, everybody had a great relationship with him. I don’t feel like there was any bad blood. Candidly both Bill and I were advocates to help him land that job, and gave him glowing reports. So I don’t see that line and I hope he doesn’t feel that.”
DeWitt added he and Luhnow maintain a strong personal relationship.
While DeWitt was informed ahead of spring training about the FBI’s investigation, Mozeliak found out at the beginning of spring activities and was floored.
“Shocked, surprised, scared. It was the first time having to deal with something like this, I didn’t really know where it would go, how it would go,” he told reporters.
Neither man would comment on the investigation beyond what has already been reported, but both were quick to explain they didn’t view the issue as a system-wide problem.
“My view was- and I still believe this- it was the roguish behavior of- I don’t know if it was an individual or a couple of individuals- but a needle in a haystack given the scope of our organization,” DeWitt said.
“I don’t think this is something that’s widespread,” Mozeliak added. “I don’t think this is a problem moving forward.”
The club was conducting its own investigation, but has since pulled back to await the outcome of the federal one. Neither would give a sense of a potential outcome, but it hasn’t been far from their mind since they first were informed of the alleged breach.
“We both think about it a lot. In terms of focusing on the day to day job and the task at hand, I think we’re able to do that,” Mozeliak said, adding that the situation remains in the back of his mind. “Still nervous on it, because I work very closely with a lot of people. You get to a personal level with your staff and it’s hard. But if a mistake was made, or someone did something they shouldn’t have, we’ll have to deal with it.”
DeWitt added he didn’t believe these actions should define the organization, explaining the club’s established culture should outlast the scandal.
“I feel like we’ve been good partners within the industry and I feel like we’ve made every effort to do it the right way. You can imagine how shocked I was to learn that someone here potentially had gone into another club’s website,” he said. “The Cardinal culture for the last 100 years, and certainly for the last 20 years has been one of emphasizing the value of integrity, honesty, commitment to excellence, openness with our fans, openness with the media, openness with our business partners and openness within the industry.”
No individuals have been named thus far in the investigation, and the Cardinals have not placed any of their employees on leave.