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Luhnow

Two years ago for the magazine, I profiled Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow W’89 EAS’89, whose astronomical rise through the baseball world was as impressive for him as it was rankling for old-school scouts who didn’t seem to care for his Moneyball methods or the fact that he never played or coached the game.

In doing research for the article, it wasn’t hard to find some resentment with Luhnow essentially getting branded as a “nerd” by some and being derided with nicknames such as “The Accountant” and “Harry Potter” while he worked for the St. Louis Cardinals. When I asked him about that, Luhnow mostly laughed it off and said that “it was all in good fun.” But there was a quote from his brother, Wall Street Journal writer David Luhnow, that stuck out to me.

“To be honest, I think it was a little hard for him to move into an industry like baseball, which is a very insular, old-boys club,” David Luhnow said at the time. “He was trying to do a lot of different things, and a lot of people didn’t take it that well in the beginning.”

It would appear they’re still not taking it well.

In a bombshell report that rocked the baseball world yesterday, it was revealed that front-office personnel from Luhnow’s former team (the Cardinals) are under investigation by the FBI for hacking into the database of his current team (the Astros). Here’s the key line from the New York Times article:

Law enforcement officials believe the hacking was executed by vengeful front-office employees for the Cardinals hoping to wreak havoc on the work of Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ general manager, who had been a successful and polarizing executive with the Cardinals until 2011.

Wow.

According to the report, the FBI believes some Cardinals personnel, perhaps from a home computer, unlawfully gained access to an Astros database of player information (a key component of Luhnow’s computer-driven scouting) by using a password that Luhnow used while he worked in St. Louis. The Times contends that “the attack would represent the first known case of corporate espionage in which a professional sports team hacked the network of another team.”

Fellow Penn grad Ken Rosenthal C’84 (who was profiled by editor Sam Hughes a couple of issues after Luhnow was) lays it out pretty well in a way that makes it seem like it all came down to pettiness and spite. In a Fox Sports column entitled “No surprise Luhnow’s unique brilliance drives rival nuts,” Rosenthal calls Luhnow “a brilliant executive” and “baseball outsider” who is a “lightning rod for controversy.”

And while he writes that it’s still too early to know the Cardinals’ motives or how high up the food chain the scandal goes, he thinks Luhnow will be just fine in the end. After all, an Astros team that was the worst in baseball a couple of years ago is currently in first place in the American League West thanks to Luhnow’s slow, patient and sometimes unorthodox rebuild.

“He makes people nuts, maybe even nuts enough to commit crimes,” Rosenthal concludes. “But I don’t need a computer to tell me who is getting the last laugh.”

— Dave Zeitlin C’03

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